An interesting column in yesterday’s Free Press, probably the best single postmortem on Detroit’s mayoral race, which had a surprise ending. For you out-of-towners, I’ll try to boil it down to its essence:
The young incumbent, Kwame Kilpatrick, aka “America’s first hip-hop mayor, had a rough first term, with lots of embarrassing stories about his profligate personal spending. You might recall the shameful saga of the red Lincoln Navigator. He was challenged in this election by Freman Hendrix, who basically ran on the adulthood platform.
It goes without saying both of these men are African American, and Democrats. The August primary set up the November runoff, and Hendrix ground Kilpatrick in the dirt. He had an enormous lead, which he didn’t so much squander as watch himself lose, inch by inch, until Tuesday.
But how big was the lead, really? Here’s what I found interesting: Two telephone polls shortly before Election Day showed Hendrix maintaining a comfortable lead. Only one, a low-budget exit poll, called the election for Kilpatrick. And it all hinged on the telephone:
“All the phone polling you saw was among people with landlines,” Grebner said. “Among those people, Kwame lost badly. But much of Detroit relies on convenience store cell phones and those are Kwame’s voters. But you can’t poll them.” Kiska, the University of Michigan-Dearborn instructor who got it correct, is more succinct. “My best judgment is you can’t do telephone surveys in the city of Detroit,” Kiska said. He said that in addition to the growing number of cell phones, which pollsters can’t call, there’s a distrust of the establishment media. Pollsters are considered an extension of that media.
During the fellowship, we had a seminar at Michigan’s venerable Institute for Social Research, in which this topic was discussed at some length. What is a household when there’s no landline? Anything you say it is.
And in a poor city, like Detroit, where a landline telephone is not necessarily a luxury — you can’t take it with you, and it only makes it easier for people to find you — that can make a big difference.
I was struck, also, but this passage in Desiree Cooper’s column on the election:
Rule No. 1 for campaigning in Detroit: Not all blacks are black. In order to win here, you’ve got to resonate with those citizens of what Michigan State University sociologist Carl Taylor calls the “Third City,” an urban sub-culture born of poverty and neglect. Taylor is the author of several books about urban culture including “Dangerous Society.”
“In the Third City, you have citizens, noncitizens — people who participate in an underground economy, but not in mainstream civic life — and anticitizens — people who defy authority and accept criminal activity as normative,” said Taylor. “There’s a strong identity of ‘us’ against ‘them’ — the white power structure and the black bourgeoisie.”
The Third City is held together by common values often at loggerheads with mainstream ones.
Hendrix, I need to add here, is African American but also biracial. In the unspoken game of “who’s blacker?,” he couldn’t compete with Kilpatrick:
The best way to galvanize the Third City is to demonize a white candidate, even where one doesn’t exist. On the street, Kilpatrick supporters referred to Hendrix by his first name, Helmut, a name that betrays his half-Austrian heritage.
The Third City factor also colored the perception of election news coverage. Stories about Kilpatrick’s abuse of public funds, including leasing a Lincoln Navigator for his wife, were seen as an attempt at election by journalism.
“Every man wants to give his wife the best, so what?” said Brenda Keith, 59.
I haven’t lived here a year yet, but I’m not holding my breath for city-suburban cooperation.
Just what the world needs: More distracted people humming the theme from “Godspell” in public spaces.
Have a good weekend.