Detroit city councilors call for a 'people's agenda'

Editor's note: The following description of recent events in Detroit was submitted by the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO).
Statement from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick gave his "State of the City"' speech March 22. He was met with a protest by the organized sector of the city employees and other organizations, such as the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. Some City Council members boycotted the speech. The mayor's speech was no more than a political speech for reelection. He attacked the City Council members who have fought against layoffs of city employees and cutbacks in transportation and other badly needed services. He has supported an increase in the cost of water, which has resulted in some 40,000 Detroit residents having their water cut off between July 1, 2001, and June 30, 2002. The neighborhoods are dark because of the lack of city lighting, and Detroit lighting workers have complained that all they need is equipment to light the city up. Mayor Kilpatrick wants to privatize the Lighting Department. He has supported Detroit Water and Sewage Dept. Director Victor Mercado in outsourcing different jobs of the Water Dept., which has resulted in a great number of layoffs of city employees. The mayor has not built any low income homes in the city, just homes starting at some $190,000 for one bedroom. Homelessness is on the increase, but the City of Detroit is not trying to eliminate the problem by providing affordable homes.

We are proud of the City Council members who boycotted the mayor's address. They have said "it is not business as usual." Excerpts from their press release are reprinted below.

We have decided to run our own candidate to help those council members who have been fighting in our interest, i.e. the working class. That candidate is the grassroots candidate, Maureen Taylor of Detroit, who is president of the MWRO. Maureen has been one of the people in the forefront of the fight for water. The MWRO, with a few other organizations, has submitted a "waterization" plan to the Detroit Water and Sewage Dept. The department has been studying the plan for the last 2 1/2 months. Maureen Taylor can help the City Council to balance the budget in a more humane way.

A Legislative Response to the Mayor's ŒState of the City' Address

From a Press Release By Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey and Council Members Sharon McPhail, Barbara Rose-Collins and JoAnn Watson.

We join with the mayor in working together to heal our city's spiritŠ.But the time has come for us to join hands and pledge cooperation and collaboration with all the people. We join with the mayor, City Council colleagues, city workers, union brothers and sisters, and tax paying residents in a pledge to put forth a people's plan for the City of DetroitŠ.

The voters have made crystal clear they want safe streets, lighted neighborhoods, bus service that works, quality education and jobsŠ.

We agree with the mayor that the present state of the city can be partially attributed to forces outside of our control. At the federal level, precious resources are being used to fund a protracted, disastrous and costly war and to provide tax loopholes for the top 1 percent of the wealthy few, instead of funding people's programs in the cities where they live.

At the state level, it is estimated that closing the tax loopholes for wealthy businesses would guarantee a state surplus. Cuts in revenue sharing and income tax rates have surely hurt Detroit's ability to provide for the peopleŠ.

Mr. Mayor, we are calling for a People's Agenda. We want to see a vision and plan for a budget that meets the people's needs.

We believe a budget can be balanced that protects the quality of life for all Detroiters without draconian cuts in services and health care. We believe our government can do more with less and still not balance the budget on the backs of our city workers and low income tax paying familiesŠ.

We are calling for a budget that prioritizes using our preciously scarce resources to turn streetlights back on in our neighborhoods,Šsubsidizing low income housing, and fixing up neighborhood recreation centers.

We want to see the plan for strengthening the ability of our city workers to obtain the equipment and tools they need in order to keep all of our buses running on time, so that people can get to and from their jobs and medical appointments.

We want a budget that calls for spending our resources on prioritizing city services for the people, not on providing money for friends on contracts that outsource city jobs, with little to no management oversight on quality and spending. It is time to treat our city workers as our partners instead of simply "costs" that need to be controlled.

Too many people in our city have incomes at or below the federal poverty level. We want a plan and vision to prioritize our city budget to meet their needs. We are calling for the immediate implementation of a water affordability plan, as has already been proposed, that would guarantee that no child and no senior ever has to live without enjoying their basic right to water.

We want an affordable housing strategy and plan that prioritizes selling city owned land to nonprofits based on value for value, which will guarantee long term affordability for low income families. We want a housing plan that is not developer driven, but driven by people's needs for quality, affordable housing so that the people who have already invested in our city stay in our great city.

The Detroit City Council has worked with the mayor and approved the city's conceptual plans for Fox Creek. But we join with the entire East Side community in calling for a commitment to building 20 percent low income housing in each sector, not just market rate housing.

We are calling for a Detroit Land Bank that is governed by Detroit citizens, Detroit taxpayers and Detroit registered voters that ensures city owned land will be accessible to Detroiters and used to provide affordable housing, not displace anyone.

We are calling for a real plan to reduce crime. We are calling for the mayor to give us the real facts about crime in this city, and to have a realistic plan for reducing the intolerable rates of homicide, drug use, drug related crimes and violent crime that plague our neighborhoods. Do we need to be funding a Homeland Security Department instead of using those funds to strengthen the ability of our own police department to handle our security and safety needs?

We are calling for creative approaches to making sure our children receive quality education services. Our city resources should target recreation centers and after school programs, where our city's future can receive the support and help they need to ensure that they reach their highest potential to excel. We should not be focusing on devoting time and energy for charter schools, but on strengthening our neighborhood public schools where the people live. At the same time that we develop family fun centers, we need to make sure that our neighborhood recreation centers are open and fully available to the children that live near them - for free.

We applaud plans to provide for sorely needed property tax relief. But, we need to develop real plans, right now, to provide relief for homeowners threatened with foreclosures and evictions. We need to double our efforts to provide resources and assistance to people to file for hardship exemptions. We are calling upon the mayor to support our proposed ordinance to prevent foreclosures and for an anti-predatory lending ordinance - now!

We are calling for the mayor's support on legislation to more aggressively link tax abatements granted to businesses with providing jobs and job training for Detroiters.

We want real stuff - not fluff - for the majority of our city's residents. We are calling upon the mayor to join us, right here, right now, in developing a realistic budget that meets people's needs for affordable housing, access to health care, working streetlights, fully funded bus transportation and recreation centers, and jobs for Detroiters.

This article originated in the People's Tribune (Online Edition), Vol. 31 No. 9 / October, 2004; P.O. Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, Feel free to reproduce unless marked as copyrighted; please include this message with reproductions of the article.