It’s all local.

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.

OK, then.

Just what the world needs: More distracted people humming the theme from “Godspell” in public spaces.

Have a good weekend.

Posted at 10:23 am in Uncategorized |

6 responses to “It’s all local.”

  1. basset said on November 11, 2005 at 12:05 pm

    “Third city,” what a concept – and what a useful summary of something that’s happening in too many places. Y’know what it reminds me of, though – the Fox/Limbaugh right-wing talk-show approach.

    “Our guy got caught stealing? And you’re reporting it? Obviously that’s because you are biased against him, and us, and people like us – YOU’RE the problem!”

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  2. Ted said on November 12, 2005 at 12:35 am

    The only way to get the city and suburbs to cooperate is to merge them. It’s the only thing that can save Detroit, and it’s the one thing that’ll never happen. Detroiters would claim it was a plot to strip them of self-determination, suburbanites would complain about sharing their tax dollars with Detroit. Detroit’s borders made sense in 1905. They don’t make sense in 2005, when the middle class can escape by car every night. The only good they do is allow everyone a chance to blame people on the other side for the region’s problems.

    I don’t blame Kwame Kilpatrick for the enmity between Detroit and its suburbs. He’s a shrewd politician who played on that resentment to win re-election. L. Brooks Patterson does the same thing.

    I left Michigan for Chicago in 1993. We have an inner-city here, but it’s not the whole city. There are more blacks in Chicago than there are in Detroit, but there are also a lot of whites, Latinos and Asians. That’s why Chicago is the City That Works.

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  3. Natashia said on November 12, 2005 at 10:31 pm

    Desiree Cooper’s story was right on the money. However, this has been a prevailing fact about Detroit politics for a number of years. Since, we all know how to win, Why did Mr.Hendricks allow the media and his campaign advisors to relentlessly, bash Mayor Kilpatrick in the media? Why? because Mr. Hendrick’s, like his all-star cast of consultants, assumed that the “Third World” people– who don’t vote and don’t have home phones, who are only consumed with rap-videos — would not get out and vote. Once again, mainstream media, white Detroit’s, and the black bourgeoisie, neglected these people. Democracy, the principles of social equality and respect for individuals within a community, is a wonderful thing. As I worked the polls from 7am until 8pm, I saw these so called “Third World people” come out to vote with such tenacity and vigor, it almost brought tears to my eyes. Now that you have seen the results of the vote, watch 1 of the 3 debates, to see why non- third world people like myself voted for Mayor Kilpatrick. He answered every question throughly and articulately. He stayed focused on the issues and tried to avoid the back and forward bantering with Mr. Hendricks.

    Please don’t be fooled by the popular media’s portrayal of the Mayor. He’s a very learned man, a skilled debater and a great orator. He was also minority leader of the Michigan house of representives, elected by his peers (>60 white and 5 black), he also has a law degree. One last thing, I have a MD, MBA and I’m completing my MPH at the University of Michigan and I don’t have a house phone. Why? I have a blackberry and a regular cellphone, additionally, I only use my house to store my clothing and furniture. Futhermore, I have a credit rating above 700 and I’m not hiding from anyone.

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  4. Amy Alkon said on November 12, 2005 at 11:03 pm

    Natasha’s absolutely right. Pollsters have to get with the times. Very interesting piece, Nance!

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  5. Nance said on November 13, 2005 at 9:39 am

    I’d give up my landline if I could find a cellular signal that didn’t disappear under my roof.

    Interesting remarks, Natashia. I still don’t have much hope for a city/suburb rapprochement anytime soon. And that’s a shame, because I get the feeling there is a significant number of people in the suburbs who want to see the city survive. (That number would decline the farther out from the center you go, I suspect.) But I like cities — always have — and it’s heartbreaking to see the city struggle.

    BTW, Paul Clemens has an op-ed in today’s NYT. It doesn’t appear to be behind the TimesSelect screen; find it here.

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  6. John said on December 7, 2005 at 3:56 pm


    Funny how certain black people such as your self spout about your degrees and credit rating. You Kwameites have me laughing my head off. Just because someone is “learned” does not make that person better. I know the Kwame Kilpatrick type, degrees, loud, seemingly personable, BUT underneath it all is still ghetto. So you can have your degrees, and the like, KWame Kilpatrick IS a crook, and degrees do not make the person. BTW, I am working on a Masters in computer science and I have a B.A. in Mathematics w/ a minor in computer science, but that does not make me aperson. Moral values and doing “the right thing” makes you a person. If Kwame is so learned, how come he cannot stop the people from leaving Detroit (11th Largest city in The country now)?

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