Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevin Orr was doing all right until he obviously, to some, “stepped
outta line.” Talking about a Pandora’s Box being opened, here is one. If ever there was a case of
political hypocrisy and blatant demagoguery, it is in the State of Michigan by those who originally
cheered for and legislated into action Michigan’s new misguided Emergency Manager Law.
As cries of, “how dare you even consider selling our art” are loudly heard throughout the state, with
threats of no new art for Detroit in the air, it’s now on and popping. The behavior, and verbal (dare I
say it protests), of many ought to at least be consistent with those who have declared the unfairness
of this process from day one.
The great French writer of “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville must be leaping in his
grave. As he said years ago, “The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic
paint but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colors breaking through.”
Everyone heard Kevin Orr and Governor Rick Snyder (the real Emergency Manager) both declare that
everything was on the table in order to bring the City of Detroit back to financial stability. No they
didn’t just say cutting workers’ salaries, health care, pension benefits, police and fire, or selling Belle
Isle and the Water Department. In my neighborhood “everythang means everythang.”
Randy Richardville, Republican leader from Monroe, the great champion of Emergency Managers,
who pushed hard for an Emergency Manager for the city of Detroit and helped to craft the
Emergency Manager Law, now has a major problem. His problem lies in the fact that the Emergency
Manager has said that everything must be on the table. Even Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, Rembrandt
and all the other fellas and ladies on the walls of the DIA. Mr. Richardville has now introduced an
amendment requiring art museums to follow the standards of public trusts governing museums
such as the DIA.
This was done faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than 2.3 million Michiganders who said
no, and he was able to leap over democracy in a single night. Richardville even said at the recent
Mackinaw Conference, “We can’t let somebody take our best stuff away.” Lord have mercy! As the
saying goes, everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die–hmmm.
It’s all right to take the Water Department. It’s all right to take Belle Isle. It’s all right to take our
voting rights. It’s all right to damn the people but at the same time long live Picasso! I like good art
just like everyone else. As a matter of fact, I supported the recent millage along with the members
of my church and the people throughout Wayne County. We believe in protecting the jewels of
Detroit. Yet we also believe in protecting the rights of the people, preserving families, creating jobs
and ensuring our right to vote for our own elected officials.
I’m told that the high talk at Mackinaw Island wasn’t on the subject of who would be the next Mayor
of the City of Detroit or the educational achievements of the students in the Detroit Public School
System, rather it was on keep your hands off of our art. This does not sound very much like shared
sacrifice to me. It does not sound like everyone is at the same table to me. Why must the pain and
the sacrifice always be made by the poor and those not wealthy enough to impact and influence
those political leaders who have the authority to make laws governing their lives?
Many of the same people who were high-fiving when Kevin Orr was brought into Detroit by the
Governor and Andy Dillon are now turning a thumbs down on his work. This has a potential to
create one of the most visible and wide spread divisions within our community. It is a visible
indication of those who are not concerned about the creation of two communities. Those
communities are one of the haves and the have-nots. Many will say that they are already here.
At this kind of political chicanery and hypocrisy, selectivity does nothing but widen the breach of
race, class, and culture. It is an example of an arbitrariness and capriciousness of intent on the part
of those who put art over people, material things over spiritual values, and culture over civility. This
does not mean that I do not support the arts. My home and my church are both filled with
representations of cultures and art from more than one source. But I am not willing to declare that
in a war of economic survival, art on the wall and animals in the zoo must be preserved. Certainly
not at the expense of the Water Department and the iconic family area of relaxation and celebration
known as Belle Isle. Surely Michigan can do better than this. This is why we must look to real
alternatives to stabilize our economy, bring in new revenue, and to draw in new citizens to our city.
As the cloud of bankruptcy hangs over the head of the City of Detroit, let us realize that every time
we announce these kinds of measures, people who would contribute to Michigan pull back.
When an Emergency Manager was first appointed for the City the word was who would want to invest
in the City of Detroit now? Well guess what? As the potential for the selling of art in the DIA was
announced, the word is who would want to donate their art work to the DIA now?
Shades of Marie Antoinette, to whom many attribute the infamous words, “Let them eat cake!‘
Perhaps she has come back now to sit on the throne here in the State of Michigan.