Editor’s note: The following is the fourth in a series of articles that will expose the misery of life in America’s poorest cities, all of which have one thing in common: they are controlled exclusively by Democrats. Each article presented by FrontPage will reveal how the production of mass urban poverty is much more than just a failure of leadership, but a means of political survival for the Left. To read the background pamphlet by David Horowitz and John Perazzo, “Government Versus The People,” click here.
Perhaps no other city in America illuminates the failure of Democratic Party policies more brightly than Detroit. Two stories, separated by only four, days are emblematic. On March 11, former Mayor Kwame Kilpatick was found guilty of 24 of 30 charges leveled against him, including fraud, racketeering and extortion. Four days later, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appointed attorney Kevyn Orr as the city’s emergency financial manager, in a last ditch effort to avoid what would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history. From 1961 to the present, the tragic history of Detroit itself has been written entirely by Democrats such as these individuals.
It was 1961 when Louis C. Miriani, Detroit’s last Republican Mayor, lost his re-election bid. It was a well-deserved loss. Miriani was a criminal who served 10 years in prison for tax evasion. The victor in the race was Democrat James Jerome Cavanagh, the only elected official to serve on LBJ’s Model Cities task force, a program that emulated Soviet efforts to reconstruct entire urban areas in Eastern European cities. Cavanagh decided that a nine-square mile section of Detroit should follow suit, and he got a new income tax, as well as a commuter tax, through the state legislature to pay for Detroit’s very own “Model City.”
The program became a disaster when residents resisted the command-and-control edicts from Democratic mayors and federal officials, telling people where to live, what to build, and what businesses to open in return for cash, training and healthcare. As a result of such heavy-handedness, a breakdown in civil order occurred, as did the beginnings of Detroit’s precipitous population decline. On July 23, 1967, that decline was accelerated when police arrested more than 80 people at a “blind pig,” a name given to black American after-hours clubs, in the heart of Model City. Outraged residents staged the worst race riot of the 1960s in retaliation, during which businesses were looted and burned. Five days later, LBJ was forced to send in two divisions of paratroopers to restore calm. Over the next year and a half, 140,000 residents, mostly white, fled the city.
Despite such failure, Democratic policies continued to be implemented. Public employee unions were granted high salaries, exorbitant benefit packages, and allowed to implement inefficient work rules and other requirements that raised the cost of doing business in the city. The same Democrat-fostered union mentality took hold in the private sector with a vengeance, to the point where Detroit’s auto industry began moving to right-to-work states in the South in order to survive.
While this economic catastrophe-in-the-making was taking place, Democrats were also undermining the school system. By 2009, Detroit Public Schools (DPS), a system U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called a “national disgrace,” was also put under the control of an emergency financial manager in order to prevent bankruptcy. And 2009 was the year that DPS students turned in the lowest scores ever recorded in the national math proficiency test over its then-21-year history. As of last June, only 1.8 percent of DPS students were considered capable of doing college level work, the achievement gap remained one of the highest in the nation, and 79 percent of residents said they don’t want their child educated by DPS. Moreover, by 2016, the system that had educated approximately 160,000 students as recently as 2000, will be reduced to serving less than 40,000 children.
Detroit residents have paid a heavy price for such a dysfunctional system: a mind-blowing 47 percent of Detroit residents are functionally illiterate.
Considering the quality of leaders running the city, Detroit’s descent into ruination should surprise no one. From 1974 to 1993, Coleman Young was mayor. Young may have run as a Democrat, but he was subsequently revealed to be a member of the Communist Party. His brand of “us against them” politics, essentially branding anyone who disagreed with him as “racist,” exacerbated Detroit’s descent into chaos. In 1992, his police chief was convicted of stealing $2.6 million from city taxpayers, even as Young defended him. Michigan’s hard-left U.S. Senator Carl Levin was Young’s chief supporter, serving as Detroit City Council president.
Such corruption was hardly anomalous. In 2006, former Detroit City Council member Alonzo Bates was convicted of putting a relative on the payroll, for which he served a 33-month sentence. In 2009, City Council member Monica Conyers, wife of U.S. House Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who has represented Detroit for 47 years, pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges and served 27 months in a federal prison. As for former Mayor Kwami Kilpatrick, his corruption wasn’t limited to the aforementioned conviction. In 2008, he agreed to resign and spend 120 days in jail for two felony counts of obstruction of justice. In 2010, he was sentenced to up to five years for violating the terms of his probation stemming from the 2008 conviction.
In 2012, Kilpatrick was also linked to a dubious pension deal involving ex-Detroit Treasurer and Kilpatrick appointee Jeffrey Beasley, who has been indicted by the federal government for taking bribes and kickbacks as part of a corrupt bargain that cost two Detroit pension funds $84 million in investment losses. Last month, two more city officials, pension fund lawyer Ronald Zajac, and Detroit Police and Fire pension trustee Paul Stewart, were also indicted in the widening pension fund bribery scandal. Also in 2012, Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. retired as the result of a scandal surrounding his sexual involvement with a female officer in the department.
Along with the corruption, Detroit has paid a heavy price for an economy that has been based on Democrats’ ideas of governance that derive from “fairness” and “social justice.” The city stands on the brink of bankruptcy with a $327 million budget deficit that could have been $900 million if the city hadn’t borrowed lots of money. It has an overall liability of $14 billion, that includes an underfunded (read: “looted”) municipal pension fund. The city population, as high as 1.8 million in the 1950s, has declined to just over 700,000 currently. Only 54.3 percent of Detroit residents who could be part of the labor force participate in it, meaning they have a job or looking for one. The other 45.7 percent don’t have a job and aren’t looking. And 15.3 percent of those employed have jobs with the government.
Detroit is in free-fall socially as well. 34.5 percent of residents are on food stamps. Only 9.2 percent are married couple families with children under 18. Single parent households run by females account for 29.7 percent of Detroit’s population, and the out-of-wedlock birthrate in the year prior to the Census Bureau survey was more than 75 percent.
Of the 363,281 housing units in Detroit, 99,072 are vacant, and 47 percent of Detroit property owners have paid their property taxes in a city whose 139 square miles have been broken down into four separate categories of deterioration that determine the level of city services they receive — if they receive any at all.
Despite these daunting realities, Detroit residents remained hitched to the Democratic Party wagon. In the 2012 election, Barack Obama received 98 percent of the vote, and other Democrats, including convicted felon Brain Banks, were elected with large margins of victory.
Emergency financial manager Kevyn Orr has been tasked with finding a way to save Detroit from bankruptcy. Yet even if he does somehow succeed, it would likely be a Pyrrhic victory at best. As long as Detroit residents continue voting for a Democratic Party whose ideology has run their city into the ground, bankruptcy will come — sooner or later.
Previous articles in the series:
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