One of the harder things to do in downtown Detroit is cross the
street.

No, it’s not because the traffic lights are out and someone will
run you over, but because of the massive amount of construction
going on. Several streets are just plain cordoned off.

That’s not a bad thing though; in fact, it is definitely a sign
that things are slowly getting better for Detroit. Some other
examples:

w Compuware Corp. is beginning to move into its new headquarters
on the site of the old Hudson’s department store, and the city is
beginning construction of a large park across the street – right
now there aren’t really any open spaces downtown for people to
relax.

w There will be a massive revitalization of the riverfront.

w Abandoned houses are being torn down and new houses are
springing up.

w There are more things to do downtown. There are more shows
coming to the city, and the electronic music festival is continuing
to draw hundreds of thousands every year.

w The old Book-Cadillac Hotel, abandoned for the last 20 years
remains one of the city’s true architectural gems, and will be the
subject of a renovation and reopening by Marriott.

One of Detroit’s biggest problems, indeed, has to do with the
fact that few people want to spend any time there – not to live,
not to visit, not to work, not to hang out. In that regard, things
are slowly but surely changing.

That’s not to say that there aren’t serious problems. Detroit is
a poor city, with more than 21 percent of the city’s residents
below the federal poverty level, which is only $8,590 for a person
living alone. Elections are usually a disaster – long lines,
ballots not getting counted, etc. The city council is incredibly
ineffective. Its members endlessly bicker among themselves and have
failed to come to an agreement about building permanent
casinos.

But it’s the scandals surrounding the mayor and the police
department that could grind development to a halt. People usually
aren’t attracted to places where they see corruption all around,
and things aren’t smelling too good right now.

The state police and attorney general’s office are currently
investigating Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s firing of the Detroit Police
Department’s chief investigator for internal investigations. Gary
Brown was looking into allegations of possible crimes committed at
the mayor’s residence during a party, as well as possible payroll
fraud and cover-up of auto accidents committed by officers on
Kilpatrick’s security detail.

(We’ll only briefly mention that Kilpatrick’s security detail is
ridiculously huge – 30 full-time officers devoted solely to his
protection. A bit much, eh?)

Kilpatrick fired Brown on May 13, without explanation. The
firing is suspicious for two reasons: First, without extremely good
cause, you usually don’t fire the person investigating you, at
least without offering a good explanation. Remember Richard Nixon?
Second, you don’t fire anyone without consulting his or her
immediate superior, in this case Chief Jerry Oliver Sr.

A related scandal involves the Detroit Police Commission, the
five-member, theoretically autonomous board whose duty it is to
conduct general oversight of the police department and investigate
allegations of wrongdoing.

That commission Executive Director Dante Goss, a buddy of
Kilpatrick’s from law school, tampered with the investigation of a
member of Kilpatrick’s security detail, is a bad sign if one hopes
to see a cleaner police department. According to the investigator
assigned to the case, Goss demanded to see the questions the
officer would be asked, then prepared the officer for his
interview. (Think of John Ashcroft calling up bombing suspect Eric
Rudolph a few days ago and saying, “Listen, get the hell out of
North Carolina, because that’s where we’re looking.”)

Kilpatrick and his friends seem to be intent on weakening the
Police Commission and making it subservient to him. As commision
Chair Megan Norris told the Free Press, Kilpatrick in February
orchestrated the resignations of the previous executive director
and chief investigator as well as the hiring of Goss and current
Chief Investigator Arnold Sheard, another Kilpatrick pal. When
Commissioner Nathaniel Head complained about all this, the mayor
booted him off the board.

What a mess. What’s worse is that all of this is going on as the
U.S. Justice Department tries to sort out corruption, mismanagement
and civil rights violations at the police department. That
investigation has been going on since 2000.

Much of Detroit’s current success in bringing development to the
city had to do, I believe, with the perception that former Mayor
Dennis Archer was running a pretty clean operation, one of which
everybody got a fair shake from city government. Business leaders,
unions as well as fellow politicians knew they could deal with his
administration in an honest manner. His predecessor, Mayor Coleman
Young, had quite the opposite reputation, people stayed away and
the deals necessary to make the city better were never cut. We’ll
see if Kilpatrick can clean things up, or else Detroit’s
renaissance might be short-lived.

Meizlish is the fall editor in chief of the Daily.

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