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Detroit haunted by poverty, scandal
Casinos came to Detroit in 1999 — a new MGM Grand opened last year — and they have helped drive visitors to downtown. The Detroit Tigers lure big crowds to their sparkling baseball complex, and the Detroit Lions draw fans to the indoor facilities at Ford Field. But a host of empty storefronts nearby offer a visage of blight from block to block.
The city also is suffering a political crisis, abetted by a city hall drama that drew national attention over the last year.
The latest of the tawdry scandals involved the city’s youthful and charismatic former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, who approved a multimillion-dollar settlement with police officers who claimed they were fired because of an internal probe into the mayor’s personal actions.
Mr. Kilpatrick ended up in jail for lying about his role in the matter and about an affair he had with his chief of staff — the details of which were laid bare in a series of explicit and embarrassing text messages published by local newspapers that had mined public records and exposed the couple’s dishonesty.
Mr. Kilpatrick was released from jail last week after serving nearly four months for perjury. His lover, Christine Beatty, remains behind bars.
The protracted and defiant downfall of Mr. Kilpatrick, the son of Democratic U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, put the city on even shakier political ground and divided some of its key political players.
Change came to America in the form of a popular and black president, Barack Obama, but in Detroit, a city in which more than 80 percent of the residents are black, voter apathy still reigned. Only 55 percent of Detroiters turned out for the historic presidential election.
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, a Republican who grew up in Detroit, says he’s loath to tell the city how to reform, but he acknowledges that his hometown needs a major lifeline.
Mr. Patterson’s father worked for Chrysler for 43 years, and he stills drives one of their cars as a nod to his legacy. It’s tough, he allows, to watch Detroit decay.
“Like Elizabeth Barrett Browning would say: ‘Let me count the ways,’” he says of the city’s problems. “Most of what is broken, you could throw a dart at the city’s organizational chart and start there.”
Detroit’s public schools are particularly troubled.
“The city’s school system is in free fall, and it cannot seem to get its act together,” Mr. Patterson says. “They have had three superintendents over the last five years. It’s chaotic, and we are losing a generation of kids.”
The literacy rate for adults in the city is less than 50 percent, and high school dropout rates are among the nation’s highest.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week singled out Detroit as the urban area about which he is most concerned.
“Without getting into too many details, I am extraordinarily concerned about the poor quality of education, quite frankly, the children of Detroit are receiving,” Mr. Duncan said. “I lose sleep over that one. And I think the dropout rate there is devastating.”
About the Author
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