I had high hopes for our current mayor when he first took office. Ken Cockrel's inaugural speech endorsed a number of issues that excited me, such as sustainability, open government and creativity. I thought he meant to follow through on these ideals because he brought them up when the easy issues to endorse would have been fighting crime and improving city services. The rhetoric sounded good, but since then I have been disappointed by his actions.
First off, if you're going to be the green mayor you can't be anything but against the incinerator. I am not a big believer in black-and-white issues, but this one is pretty clear cut. When Cockrel was on council (which he did a better job running than any of his predecessors I can remember) he was against the incinerator and cast the votes to back it up. Now that he is in the position of power where he could do something about it he is at best hedging and at worst doing a complete about face. Stories like these scare me:
Detroit Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire: Ken Cockrel Jr.
Second, his proposal of dealing with the city's budget deficit is truly unimaginative. This city needs more than just pay cuts for its workers. It needs some tough decisions, and more than anything the city's bureacracy needs to be broken down and simplified. There is no evidence of this happening, just campaign rhetoric that grows staler with every uttering.
Third, is the handling of the Lafayette building and the pervasive sense of his administration to demolish first and ask questions later. Such actions are the antithesis of sustainability and innovation. Demolition is anything but green policy, but that seems to be the first option the Cockrel administration goes for when tackling major problems. Use most of the foreclosure funds for demolition instead of expediating low-cost acquisition of these buildings so they can be reused and put back on the tax rolls. Use stimulus funds to demolish the train station instead of siezing it and first offering it for redevelopment, a move that could create jobs, increase tax base, create business opportunity and provide a stunning example of Detroit's innovation on par with the Book Cadillac restoration.
And then there is the Lafayette building, which to me is the most unexcusable. Here is an opportunity to do something special because the tax payers have clear title to it. Instead the Cockrel administration looks at it as a burden and puts it at the front of the line for demolition. This is an action that will cost millions of dollars at a time when our firefighters are dying trying to protect abandoned houses that have burned so many times they should have been razed long ago. The Lafayette is a major downtown building and belongs to taxpayers. Before lining it up for demolition, the Cockrel administration/DEGC should have reached out to the community for ideas on what to do with it or at least put out a request for proposals. Instead we saw the rights to it shifted from one developer to another behind the scenes, while the city officials who are supposed to be protecting the tax payers' property neglect it, turning a blind eye as vandals have their way with it. And then suddenly something that was worth an investment of tens of millions to redevelop is not worth anything anymore and needs to be torn down.
City officials never considered doing something innovative, such as renovating the first floor, securing the exteroir, mothballing the rest and using the sections that face Campus Martius and the Levin Courthouse for advertising to help pay for it. This is a move that would cost much less than the at least $3 million it would cost to raze the Lafayette. It would also give the Lafayette enough of time to be available after the light rail is built. The whole development dynamic will change when the streetcars start running, enough that it could easily make a building like the Lafayette a prime candidate for redevelopment. And nevermind that the new historic tax credits combined with brownfield tax credits could knock half the cost off redeveloping the Lafayette but those aren't available if there is no building.
But we don't get this. We get the same tired cliches of its better as a parking lot than redeveloped. The same group think that has prevaded our leadership for decades and put the city/downtown in the hole it is in today. And city officials never reach out to the public for ideas, even though the Lafayette belongs to us, not them. In fact city officials ignore the will of the public when hundreds of concerned residents tell them to keep trying. This type of arrogance and contempt for citizen activism smacks of the Kilpatrick administration, something I was hopeful we were beyond but realize we are sadly not.
I once believed in Cockrel. In fact I couldn't wait for him to be mayor after what Kilpatrick did to this city. And I think he has done an admirable job of guiding the city since taking office. Fighting for the Cobo deal was the right decision and I like his stance against Maroun's twin span. I am glad to see him setting up a curbside recycling program and like his appointments. And he comes off as a regular guy with a level head not entranced by the trappings of his office. In a normal time, I think he would be a good mayor. One I would be proud to vote for. But this isn't a normal time. Business as usual, old answers and half steps are the last thing Detroit needs right now. That's what Cockrel is becoming to represent. Plus, I don't think I can trust him anymore. So many times he says one thing and is actions do another. Maybe in the past I could let such things slide, but not in a post-Kilpatrick atmosphere.