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One Month In Office

One Month In Office image One Month In Office image
Parent Issue
Day
8
Month
February
Year
1974
OCR Text

One month into his four-year term as Detroit's first black mayor, Coleman Young continúes his honeymóon with the people of Motown. In the brief time since he's taken office, Detroit has not turned miraculously into someplace else; crime and poverty have not disappeared or even abated, and suburbanites have not started a headlong rush back to the city. But changes have begun, in subtle, not-quite-defïnable ways that deal with the spirit, the consciousness, of a city rather than with its statistics. Detroiters have begun to think of city government as being more open and accessible, and that's the first step towards dealing with the entire city in more humar terms. Four weeks isn't long enough to fulfill campaign promises, and Mayor Young hasn't. But he has lived up to the image that elected him-that of an outspoken, decisive man who relates to his constituents on human rather than manipulative political levéis. Young is fast becoming a folk hero, lionized by those who elected him, and hailed by the media as a grassroots man who is not Mr. Mayor but 'just Coleman' to the people. The First Black Mayor of Detroit (a label invariably linked to his name) won by a slim margin in a race that gave Detroiters a clearcut choice. It was not merely a choice between black and white, although the racial composition of the city gave Young the 52.8% of the vote that defeated John Nichols, former pólice commissioner of Detroit. The differences were far greater than merely those of ace. Candidate Young was a left-liberal politician who agitated in the state Senate for abortion reform, consumer protection laws, and marijuana decriminalization, and who promised Detroiters more uniformed policemen, better housing and transit, and abolition of the controversial STRESS decoy unit. Candidate Nichols, on the other hand, ran as a hardline conservative careerpoliceman, whose ties to the black and street community were those of mutual dislike and distrust, and who created the STRESS unit in the first place. Known for his radical political background, Young was, however, forced to compromise during the campaign. Such compromises are, unfortunately, necessary for the mayor of a city badly torn along racial, political and economie lines. The mayor has the responsibility of uniting the vast black community and the majority of the white community in order to bring street level change to Murder City. But even as radicáis aecuse Young of moving to the right, ultra-conservative groups, such as the right-wing Breakthrough organization, accuse him of being 'pinko' and 'anti-American' and other Joseph McCarthy-type ihings. Breakthrough people were thwarted early in ary in their attempts L T to confront Young. However, their PV 'anti-red' hate leaflet was well circulated. J ■T. -1, Jf. Jf. m V Young's first month in office has left him Ê 1 talked about and written about more for his J atrical flair than for governmental bureaucratie actions, but in a town numbed by quiet mechanical leadership, that flair has meant a lot. Young's inauguration was typical of this style. Thre days of celebration ranged from luncheons with Henry Ford, Gov. William Milliken and related bigwigs, to a C Ross concert to a ball that ended up using two rooms a two styles of one for Detroit's auto ar tocracy, and one for street people who carne to celebra their 'main man's' takeover, and to boogie. Ofield Dukes, who organized the inauguration events, noted that at first Young didn't want a big celebration because it seemed in bad taste, given Detroit's problems. Then the newly-elected mayor decided that people needed an upper, a chance to be high and celébrate the hope and potential inspired by the election of the new order. So the festivities were held, and for three days Detroiters from both sides of the tracks mingled, and the city was alive. Young' s inaugural address was typical of the man, and reminded those who may have forgotten amid the pomp and ceremony of the balls and banquets that the new mayor is well aware of the problems facing'his city. Young did not minee words, and the address was tough and straightforward, concentrating on Detroit's crime problem. "I don't give a damn whether (crimináis) wear superfly suits or blue uniforms with silver badges," he said. "Hit the road. Hit Eight Mile Road." Wildly applauded by his 2,000 person inauguration audience, it was not to be his most popular statement in other places. Beyond Eight Mile Road, where the suburbs begin, paranoia took over. Literal-minded bigots began locking their doors, suburban officials made speeches blasting Young for trying to pass Detroit's problems on to herjieighbors. Pólice in one instance kicked a loiterer from the Detroit side of Eight Mile to the other side of the street, calling it "mayor's orders." The Free Press' Frank Angelo took time off from his usual "an-editor-meets-such-interesting-people" columns to translate Young's statement for those too gently reared to understand straight talk. "Young is, in fact, a man of the street to whom telling crimináis to hit the road comes much more naturally than saying 'We shall implement our program against crime by driving out perpetrators of evil in our community, root and branch,'" Angelo wrote. It makes sense. I f some expected the mayor to tone de his approa his word choice after the Eight Mile incident, they were in for a surprise. Polite dodging of is; is not in Coleman Young s nature, it appears. When a 19-year oíd wanted felón named Gary Sims surrendered himself to Young on Jan. 29, sayirrg he was scared of the pólice, the mayor didn't cautiously feel the water and use the proper channels. Assigning pólice inspector James Blount to personally protect Sims, Young commented that Sims "is in good shape now, no scars on him. I want to see him that way at the sentencing." B Harsh words from an office that traditionally quakes at the very suggestion of possible pólice brutality. The discovery a day later that Sims had lied to-and fooled-the street-wise Young when describing his pólice record doesn't detract from the mayor's ability to inspire trust in community people. The Sims incident shows that Young lives up to the trust placed in him by backing those who previously wouldn't have thought of going near an unresponsive city hall. Young commented quietly that he was "disappointed 1 Sims was less than truthful," but left the door wide open for other community members seeking asylum. For Mayor Young understands Detroit all too well. and knows from his own youth why a black in trouble would be more than a little afraid of walking into the Beaubien Street cop headquarters. His own memories of street life in Detroit may also have something to do with his cautious almost hedging stand on gun control. When Pólice Commissioner Philip Tannian, whom Young kept on from the Gribbs administration, announced a personal campaign to ban handguns from Michigan, Young's response carne as a surprise. He suggested that the important goal now is to enforce the gun laws already on the books, and commented that continued on page 16 In the end, though, what happens to Detroit during Young's term will not happen because of who Young is or what he does, hut because of the city he governs and the times it is living through Coleman Ybung's First Month continued from page 9 he could understand why some Detroiters would want to have pistols around. The public difference of opinión with his pólice commissioner is typical of Young's openness. One has the feeling that things won't be hidden in smoke-filled rooms over the next four years. Bureaucratically, Young is just beginning to créate a team for his administration. Several appointments are not yet made, and much will change when the new city charter leads to a restructured city government in July. So far, however, Young has stuck close to his promise of a multi-racial team. A few of his appointments have been especially creative-for example, on Jan. 31 he named Estelle Gardner, a longtime bus rider who doesn't own a car, to the DSR Commission, which oversees the city's mass transit. A logical idea, but one that hasn't been thought of before. In the past, DSR commissioners were almost entirely business and political leaders. Young has also initiated a series of task forces on specic city problems, and as their reports come in, relevant rograms will be announced. Although Young has not gotten full swing into any of his promised reforms yet, there is no question of who is mayor of Detroit. Young does mayor-type things like appear on televion and at funerals for gunned-down policemen. He hows up with other 'major community figures' at the nveiling of a new painting by the Arts Institute. And he speaks his mind, openly andoften. In the end, though, what happens to Detroit during Young's term will not happen because of who Young is or what he does, but because of the city he governs and the times it is living through. The most radical and personable mayor in the world cannot save the city the agony caused by massive layoffs on the auto lines, nor can he hold back the floodwater of recession, crime and decay facing all American urban areas today. General Motors and Richard Nixon will probably have more to do with whether Detroit sinks or swims than will Coleman Young. But if the first month is any indication, Mayor Young may yet convince people it's worth trying to swim, and that one of Us, rather than one of Them, is in city halland he's doing more than treading water.