The Free Press did its readers a real service over the weekend. Though we might wish they’d cashiered Albom, they actually did something better, publishing a comprehensive, no-stone-unturned, no-urban-legend-unaddressed report on why, precisely, Detroit went bankrupt. It’s a fascinating document, but thousands of words long. If you’re a resident, it’s essential reading. If you’re a municipal finance nerd — a surprising number of them are out there — ditto. If you just appreciate finding answers that aren’t easy, can’t be summarized in a tweet or a few minutes on some cable-news yak show, you might also benefit from it. If there are three essential paragraphs, it’s these:
When all the numbers are crunched, one fact is crystal clear: Yes, a disaster was looming for Detroit. But there were ample opportunities when decisive action by city leaders might have fended off bankruptcy.
If Mayors Jerome Cavanagh and Roman Gribbs had cut the workforce in the 1960s and early 1970s as the population and property values dropped. If Mayor Dennis Archer hadn’t added more than 1,100 employees in the 1990s when the city was flush but still losing population. If Kilpatrick had shown more fiscal discipline and not launched a borrowing spree to cover operating expenses that continued into Mayor Dave Bing’s tenure. Over five decades, there were many ‘if only’ moments.
“Detroit got into a trap of doing a lot of borrowing for cash flow purposes and then trying to figure out how to push costs (out) as much as possible,” said Bettie Buss, a former city budget staffer who spent years analyzing city finances for the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan. “That was the whole culture — how do we get what we want and not pay for it until tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow?”
Compare it, if you read, to these two smug pinheads — one Manhattan Institute, one Wall Street Journal editorial board — discussing former mayor Coleman Young (who singlehandedly CRUSHED DETROIT) somewhere in the WSJ video studio, where evidently the standards for on-camera performance fall well short of, say, Fox News.
Finally, in one of the surest demonstrations of the value of most internet comment sections (not this one!), the very first one that appeared on this one, after I waded through thousands of words of exhaustively researched reporting? “Unions = Corruption = Democrats = Detroit. Stop O-bomb-a!”
So. How was your weekend? Mine was pretty good. We had two 17-year-old houseguests, the son of one of my Fort Wayne friends and one of his friends. They came to town to play in a tournament of Magic, the Gathering, which is a card game so nerdy one of the boys said he’s heard tournament organizers ask players to please consider their personal hygiene before sitting down at the table. (I sliced a pungent onion for the crock pot Sunday morning, Kate made a face and he said he’d been smelling so much B.O. recently he didn’t even notice.) It was great to have teenage boys around, if for no other reason than they always clean their plates. Always. And these two made their beds, too.
Took a 20-mile bike ride. Watched “Scanners” with the boys. Made pulled pork (the onion). It was a good one.
I liked Joyce Maynard’s take on J.D. Salinger, enough that if Prospero feels like going into a towering snit about her not being fit to wipe his boots or whatever, he — or anyone else who raises this point — is welcome to kiss my nether regions. A 53-year-old who woos an 18-year-old “woman” is a creep, pure and simple.
The Ralph Lauren spring 2014 collection, via T-Lo. Blackwhiteblackwhiteblackwhite then WHOA, COLOR.
I hope a grand week awaits us all.