Why Detroit Shouldn't Elect an Emergency Manager

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 9 2013 11:11 AM

Three Cheers for Unelected Emergency Managers

162579823
Graffiti covers an abandoned building February 24, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.

Photo by J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

Chris Lewis crystallizes the meme proffered by opponents of the Michigan Emergency Manager Law. Up to now, opponents of the law that allows a state-appointed bureaucrat to rule a city until certain goals are met had been criticized as "un-democratic." That it is, of course, though the residents of these cities had the chance to vote for their governor and state legislators. But the new meme, as a subhed-author puts it for Lewis, is that the disproportionate black populations of this city should disturb us. Now that Detroit's fallen under the yoke, half the state's black population is living under EMs. Taking away the Detroit resident's ability to vote for mayor? That's the "new Jim Crow."

Lewis himself is a little more circumspect, quoting the people suing or supporting the lawsuit to overturn the law.

"The overall health of a community depends on people's sense of having a stake in it," said David Bullock, pastor of two Detroit area churches and founder of the civic group Change Agent Consortium. "Emergency management just works against long-term stability and health for communities, because the people on the ground feel like they don't have any voice or value."
Advertisement

One problem with this: Confidence in their elected officials was collapsing before the EM came to town. Detroit's previous elected mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, won two terms on low turnout, then went to jail on a total of 26 felony counts. The city council president elevated by his resignation, Monica Conyers, went to jail, too. And the problem runs deeper than that, with a total lack of faith in city services. (Watch some of Charlie LeDuff's dispatches from the city about the length of time it takes to get cops to show up after a 911 call.) By the way, the emergency manager hired to preside over this, Kevyn Orr, is black. Does that matter? It complicates the "Jim Crow" huffing a little, doesn't it?

Perhaps the D.C. reporter's perspective on this is skewed. We're able to choose some of our elected officials. We can vote for president and vice president; we can vote for D.C. council, mayor, ANC, and and school board. But we can't vote for Congress, and Congress* retains a vast degree of control and oversight over the city. This horrifying un-democratic state of affairs has been in place during a time of economic growth, lower crime, and more movement into the city. The EMs have worked in other Michigan cities hollowed out by closed factories. Whether they work is more important than whether voters, for a few years, have the opportunity to approve of a government they don't trust.

*This originally read "contains" instead of Congress. Why? An excellent and unanswerable question.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful, a new book argues.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 2:38 PM Scientists Use Electrical Impulses to Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.