The top vote-getter in the Detroit City Council primary in August was Charles Pugh. You Fort Wayners might remember him from his days as a young reporter for WKJG, although he didn’t stay long. He was clearly ambitious, and before long was en route to a bigger markets, until he ended up in his hometown of Detroit.
Most young TV reporters don’t leave much of an impression on me, as infrequently as I watch local newscasts, but like I said — Pugh was ambitious. My main memory of him was a piece he did on the correlation between the Super Bowl and domestic violence, at least three years after it had been debunked, and the debunking had been its own story. The piece was nonsense start to finish, thinly sourced and with the usual domestic-violence victim-advocacy suspects claiming their business always went up during “football season,” etc. The internet was new at the time, and I wrote the news director a note about it via the station’s AOL page, citing the debunking, etc. Crickets. I should add this is typical: Local TV reporting is so glib, and any record of it so fleeting (as I said, this was pre-internet, pre-DVR), that news directors can basically ignore all but the loudest criticism. Mistakes that would get front-page corrections in a newspaper just fly by with a shrug and not even an oops.
I tell you this so you know I’m not inclined to like him, but once I moved here and realized he was a local-media celebrity, I paid special attention. He’d refined his image in the intervening years, acquired the gloss of a big-media-market personality, and was now an out ‘n’ proud gay man. A Freep columnist wrote an admiring profile of him, I guess because it takes a certain amount of courage to be out ‘n’ proud in the black community (although certainly not in the news media). He also has a compelling personal biography, having been raised by his grandmother after both parents died violently (mother murdered, father a suicide) before he was 8 years old. He’d found a high public profile as co-anchor for the weekend morning show, the usual jokey mishmash of wire copy and live standups at pumpkin patches and fireworks venues, etc. The photo that ran with the column was hilarious: The caption said Pugh and his co-anchor were “preparing their newscast,” while the picture showed both sitting in position at the anchor desk, each staring into their own hand mirror with a look of utter absorption.
So when, a year or so ago, rumors started circulating that Pugh was considering a run for city council when his contract expired, I was interested in how it might play out. The big question seemed to be whether his out ‘n’ proud status would hurt him among religious voters, and based on the primary results, the answer was no. It’s pretty amazing to think he beat established incumbents to get the sort of vote totals he did, but until recently, he was very well thought-of.
That all started to fall apart last week, when the newspapers revealed he was about to lose his condo to foreclosure. His initial response was that he was having a cash-flow crisis brought on by having left his lucrative TV and radio jobs (which paid him in the neighborhood of $240,000 a year) to run for council (which would bring him about $80,000, with a $4,000 bump if he again finished at the top of the heap). The second-day stories said no, his financial life had been chaotic for some time; he nearly lost the same condo two years ago, and was served with eviction notices a jaw-dropping 11 times in the previous four years, when he was a renter.
In other words, this is not a guy with a cash-flow problem, but one who is seemingly incapable of managing his own finances, even with an enviable income.
And now I’d like to change direction a bit, because ultimately I don’t really care what sort of journalist Pugh is or isn’t, or what sort of city councilman he will or won’t be. (In Detroit: Bet on will.)
What I want to know is this: What the hell went wrong in this country that Charles Pugh could get a 100 percent loan to buy a $385,000 condo in the first place?
Yeah, yeah — there’s that fat income he was earning. But as we see, his credit history had to be pretty damn dismal. And check out these details:
Records show Pugh paid $385,000 for the condominium in 2005 and took two loans from Countrywide Mortgage the day he assumed ownership. One was for $77,000 and another for $308,000, which has jumped to $331,370 with interest and fees.
According to documents, Pugh was charged 8.25 percent interest, making his monthly payment on his 30-year mortgage payment $2,892. That does not include any insurance and property tax.
That’s 100 percent of the purchase price — no money down. Even knowing this was 2005, the very peak of the madness, when “liar loans” were commonplace and the only requirement for an applicant was a pulse, this still has the power to gall me. Obviously a guy who can’t make ends meet on an income like this is unqualified to be council president in a city in perpetual death throes. Pugh has a lame-ass explanation: “I’m currently going through what thousands of Detroiters are experiencing.” Well, yes, although thousands of Detroiters didn’t manage to screw things up quite so badly on an income of nearly a quarter-mil a year.
But in lots of ways, he’s right — this is what thousands of Detroiters are experiencing. Without his fancy education and income, they fell victim to door-to-door sales by smooth-talking sharpies who promised them free crack, the non-addictive kind. In a way, Pugh is the perfect councilman for this city. He certainly is a perfect representative.
I’m betting he coasts to victory, at or near the top of the field. Just what Detroit needs — another empty suit (but a very stylish one) on city council.
So: Monday. Boat taking-out day. Let’s hope for one with a lack of marital strife. Temperature looks warmish and cloudy. Fingers crossed.