Detroit haunted by poverty, scandal

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Mr. Hendrix, who worked as chief government relations officer at Eastern Michigan University before taking leave to campaign, has been endorsed by a contingent of more than 30 religious leaders in the city as well as by former mayor and state Supreme Court Justice Dennis Archer.

The Detroit News last week, however, endorsed Mr. Bing, a Washington, D.C., native who starred with the NBA’s Detroit Pistons in the 1960s and 1970s and later was elected to the basketball Hall of Fame.

Mr. Bing, 65, now is a successful entrepreneur in the automotive industry who is lauded for his business sense and outsider profile.

The paper said Mr. Bing “is a man of unflinching character and an untarnished reputation. He brings no political baggage to the job, owes no favors and is ideally positioned to purge the pay-for-play culture from City Hall. His political independence would allow him to unite the city’s political factions. His maturity and calm, confident demeanor would be a refreshing change from the flamboyant and corrupt Kilpatrick years. He promises to put in place a much-needed ethical framework for government operations.”

If the endorsement wasn’t enough to convince voters Mr. Bing is not out for just the financial gains of the job, he made a stunning vow during the campaign. He said if elected he would take the $176,176 mayoral salary and use it for additional police officers.

The city’s other major newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, has yet to endorse, but it has dubbed Mr. Bing, Mr. Hendrix and Mr. Evans as top-line candidates in the crowded field.

The troubled school system will require the new mayor’s immediate attention. Facing a district in crisis, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm in January appointed an emergency financial manager to oversee the schools for the next year.

Robert Bobb, a former city administrator and deputy mayor in Washington, D.C., who also served as the District’s homeland security adviser, was tapped by the governor to help balance the district’s budget and bring financial and academic authority back to the city’s failing schools.

Fixing Detroit’s schools will be an enormous challenge, says Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington.

The district faces a $140 million budget deficit from 2008, along with crumbling facilities and an embarrassing lack of academic progress. One school last fall sent students home with notes to parents requesting such basic supplies as toilet paper. Fifty percent of the city’s children live in poverty. The system received a D+ from the National Council on Teacher Quality in the group’s 2008 annual report.

“Detroit is possibly the worst school system in the country right now,” says Mr. Petrilli, who worked in the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration. “Unlike other school systems that have some reason for hope, you just don’t see that in Detroit. You look at Chicago, New York, Washington, Philadelphia and New Orleans — you’ve had leaders there with clear plans and clear political backing. In Detroit, it’s chaos and a food fight between various political factions.

“No education leader is going to be successful in that environment, regardless of the reforms they put in place. What the city of Detroit needs is some stable political leadership.”

About the Author
Andrea Billups

Andrea Billups

Andrea Billups is a Midwest-based national correspondent for The Washington Times. She is a native of West Virginia and received her undergraduate degree from Marshall University and her master’s degree from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Her news career spans more than 20 years. She has reported for several newspapers, has edited two magazines and before joining the Times, ...

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