Detroit: Before and After

Tuesday former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was convicted of 24 felonies that will keep him in prison for decades.  Today the state of Michigan will likely deny an appeal from members of the city council of Detroit to hold off on appointing an emergency manager to overhaul the finances of Michigan’s largest city.  In and of themselves, neither of these events will change anything on the streets of the city.  Garbage isn’t going to be collected any more efficiently.  Crime won’t go down, and property values certainly won’t change because of this.  But these two events, both symbolically and practically, portend the end of one era, and the beginning of another.  This week, more so than any other in Detroit, with the possible exception of another week in 1967, delineates one epoch from another.

Kilpatrick, to the end, was delusional.  His response to the verdict: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’  Kilpatrick excelled at this sort of colossal lie, not just to the people of Detroit, but to himself.  This is a man who, to this day, still does not appreciate the fact that he committed dozens of felonies.  I think there’s a sort of cognitive dissonance that Kilpatrick personifies that is manifested in the politics of Detroit.  Even though the handwriting is on the wall, the people who run this city largely feel allowed, but compelled to ignore it.

But no longer.  The man who presided over the old Detroit has been summarily dispatched, and the remnants of the political system that attempted to fill Kilpatrick’s shoes are likely to be dismissed today.  The emergency manager will be appointed, and city council will be given a chance to play ball.  Mayor Dave Bing has resigned himself to the fact that an emergency manager will be easier to work with than the assembly of characters that fill the ranks of the city council.  Council will pretend to play along initially, but eventually they’ll be circumvented with the power of the new emergency manager law that takes effect on March 28th and will lose any remaining authority.

This week closed the books on a very dark, very sad period of the history of Detroit.  It lasted 45 years.  What comes next for government and politics in Detroit is anyone’s guess.  There’s no guarantee that it’s going to be successful, but it sure as hell won’t be boring.

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