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In Sickness And In Health

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Dearborn: Built By Ford, Ruled By Hubbard

By Henry Reske

On the edges of Detroit's west side rests the suburban fief of Mayor Orville L. Hubbard and Ford Motor Company that we know as Dearborn.

This city of 93,000 people has been presided over by Hubbard for the last 34 years. It was built, and is still maintained, by Ford money.

Dearborn is not a formal suburban community of endless rows of identical houses and an occasional shopping center. Instead, it is a town of glaring contrasts.

The east end of Dearborn is the poorer section, including lower-middle class housing, an Arab ghetto, and an industrial area anchored by the massive Ford Rouge Plant.

The west end of town is definitely upper-middle class. The price of homes in the west end can go as high as $200,000, and the shops cater to the well-off.

The sland of FoMoCo rears up in the center of town, out of the dust and decay of the industrialized east end and the well-trimmed green lawns of the west, like a huge shining beast that is still growing.

At one time, the area was the site of the vast rural Fairlane estate of Henry Ford I, Now it boasts the huge Ford world headquarters office building; the ultra-modern Fairlane Shopping Center; the new Hyatt Regency Hotel, with its reflecting walls and revolving restaurant; Henry Ford Community College; the University of Michigan-Dearborn; the Henry Ford Centennial Library; the Dearborn Police Station and district court; the Dearborn Youth Center; wildlife preserves and Greenfield Village.

No one knows whether or not Ford intended to divide Dearborn, but it's certainly worthy of Henry I. It's nearly impossible to get from one end of town to the other without owning a car.

Yet the most glaring contrast of Dearborn is Hubbard himsetf, a mayor in the mold of Chicago 's Richard Daley.

With his 34 years in office, Hubbard has served more consecutive terms than any mayor in the nation. He has gained a national reputation for both his tenacity and his inventive-and infamous- ways of running the city.

During his long tenure in office, he has broken almost every rule in the book of successful politicking, and has amassed a track record. that could destroy ten lesser politicians.

He has lived openly with his woman "friend", faced and won a recall election, defied a court order to the point of taking up residence in Windsor to avoid arrest, and was once denounced by the NAACP as being more dedicated to segregation than George Wallace.

At present, however, Hubbard is the shadow of the man he once was. Crippled by a stroke in November 1974, Hubbard, 74, is unable to speak or walk. Nevertheless, he is paraded around Dearborn in his wheelchair to ribbon-cutting ceremonies and daily staff meetings, where the public can ogle him.

The familiar scenes of Hubbard being dragged from his car to his wheelchair-with his aides straining, lifting, and pulling, and Hubbard unable to help- are, at best, humiliating.

Yet a move to have Hubbard recalled for inability to govern met with little public support , and was quickly quashed. Hubbard remains in office, issuing edicts at staff meetings in a garbled voice that leaves city officials guessing at his intentions.

The people of Dearborn, however, continue to love their mayor, and indeed the people are Hubbard's power base. As far as they're concerned, he has given them everything they could want from a city government, and they are grateful.

Among the unique services offered to Dearborn residents are a retirement village in Clearwater, Florida; a private beach and park in Milford; four senior-citizen high-rise apartment complexes within the city; and one of the finest parks and recreation departments in the state.

One city official summed up the Hubbard strength: "If all the department heads were to go on a pleasure cruise and the ship blew up, Orville Hubbard would still survive, because his strength comes from the voters."

Orville Hubbard was born April 2, 1903, on a farm in BataviaTownship near Union City, Michigan. He was the firstborn of a family of five children that can trace ts lineage back to a 17th-century colonial family.

Hubbard held a variety of jobs before finding his niche as Dearborn's Mayor in November 1941. He served in the Marines for four years, worked as a stenographer at Ford, worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and was an Assistant State Attorney General.

Prior to running for mayor, Hubbard tried his luck at running for justice of the peace, city council, U.S. Congress and state senator, and finally mayor. He lost in nine separate bids for elected office, including three tries for mayor, before his first victory.

In Hubbard's fourth shot at the mayor's office, he ran as a reform candidate but made no political promises. His opponent was backed by the United Auto Workers.

Hubbard won the election- 9,155 votes to 8,129- after that, he never lost the support of the voters.

He has maintained his steel-trap grip on the voters throughout his many years in office by a shrewd manipulation of the local press, the backing of Ford tax dollars, a policy of unwavering racism, and an ability to simply give the people what they want.

Throughout Hubbard's career, newspapers have played an important role. Hubbard, his Wall Street ournal experience behind him, knows how to get good press.

During the 1949 election, Hubbard circulated campaign literature slurring his opponent by charging that he was "continually trying to get money out of the taxpayers."

Hubbard's opponent sued for libel, and a circuit court judge ruled against Hubbard, ordering him to pay damages of $7,500. Hubbard quickly vowed not to pay.

Hubbard then began eluding the Wayne County Sheriff's department by travelling around the country to avoid arrest. He appeared in Chicago and San Francisco, despite a court order confining him to Wayne County. He also hid out at Camp Dearborn in Oakland County until the order to arrest him was extended to the entire state. After that, Hubbard took up residence in Windsor and ran the city of Dearborn from "exile" in Canada.

Hubbard enjoyed the whole episode, and apparently, so did the people. In a recall election in 1951 , stemming from nis opposition to a housing project that he believed would bring blacks into Dearborn, Hubbard won, 16,872 to 12,732. In the regular election in November 1951, Hubbard won 59 per cent of the vote.

When Hubbard was vying for his 14th re-election, he carne up with the idea of auctioning off his old clothes for the benefit of his campaign coffers.

His sale of 160 items of clothing, which netted him over $700, also received coverage from all the local papers, the downtown dailies, the wire services, and local television.

With that kind of free publicity, Hubbard couldn't lose.

The mass weddings, which started in 1972 and ended with the mayor's stroke in 1974, were also a great publicity scheme.

He performed a mass wedding on a St. Valentine's Day, marrying 18 couples. He has performed marriages in airplanes, and has also married a couple who had joined the army under the togetherness program. By the time of his stroke, he had married over 1,700 couples.

Again, the people and the press loved it. In the 1973 election, a year after the marriages began, Hubbard received 82 per cent of the vote.

A recent state audit has revealed that Hubbard pocketed over $30,000 in what city officials term "gratuities" for forming the weddings.

Other Hubbard antics that have received a good deal of press attention include orders to his department heads to lose weight or lose their jobs; a program to have drunken partygoers on New Year's Eve driven home by Dearborn police; a plan to purchase the Detroit-Windsor tunnel and Ambassador Bridge to bring in extra revenue for the city; and an order to department heads to seclude themselves for half an hour each day for "think sessions."

Besides having the ability to obtain good press, the mayor has also been able to controll it.

One of his most common tactics is cutting off one of the local papers from city hall press releases. At first glance, such a petty tactic may'seem ludicrous.

Yet a further look reveals something more- there are four weekly newspapers circulating in Dearborn. In a town of just over 90,000 people, there are only so many subscribers and advertising dollars. Competition for both is stiff.

Local readers want to know which teams are winning in the recreation sport leagues, when the youth center is having an antique show, and when the city will be taking reservations for sites at Camp Dearborn.

If one of the papers fails to present that information, the readers and advertisers will go find another paper. When the city cuts off a paper from such releases, it could spell doom. None of the papers has the money to hire an extra reporter to gather such a volume of information. And none of the papers has a desire to be put in a position where they would have to.

Part II of this article, in the next issue, recalls some times when Dearborn media didn't 't play by Hubbard 's rules, and looks at the power of the Ford name in Dearborn.

Henry Reske is a freelance writer who has reported for Dearborn newspapers.