Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

February 24, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: Water bill is poignant symbol

(Continued)

Repeated attempts to dispute this bill have met with no response.

“Why don’t we just forget it and move to San Francisco?” Janelle, his longtime companion, urged him. “I’m getting close. I’ll tell you that,” King said.

If he closes up and leaves, it would be both a cultural and an economic blow to the city. His three Detroit bookstores employ more than a dozen neighborhood residents, whom he hires and painstakingly trains.

John King, the son of two blue-collar Ford Motor Co. workers, has lived in Detroit his entire life, staying when everybody else left, putting up with car insurance rates three times what he would pay in the suburbs, Rather than leave, he built a beautiful little apartment atop his second building. Then he tried to connect to the city’s cable TV service. “But they said I was a business and would have to pay $3,000,” he said. He bought a satellite dish instead.

Dave Bing has been fighting, too, also without much luck. A successful Detroit businessman after leaving the NBA, he had been urged to run for mayor for two decades. Finally, after the national embarrassment of Kwame Kilpatrick, he finally did,

But after taking office, he found getting anything substantial done infuriatingly difficult. Too often, the nine-member city council seemed more interested in posturing than progress, as when they rejected a state offer to renovate Belle Isle.

In the final analysis, however, it is unlikely even a superhuman could have saved Detroit from insolvency. Bing himself noted he inherited $13.8 billion in unfunded, long-term liabilities.

Two billion of that will come due within five years. Late last week, word leaked that a state-appointed review team was telling the governor there was virtually no chance Detroit’s elected officials could get the city‘s finances under control.

Nobody, least of all Mayor Bing, can be very surprised.

Jack Lessenberry, who teaches journalism at Wayne State University, is Michigan Radio’s senior political analyst, ombudsman and writing coach for the Toledo Blade and former foreign correspondent for and executive national editor of The Detroit News. He was named Journalist of the Year in 2002 by the Metropolitan Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

 

 

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