Don Graves, a deputy assistant U.S. Treasury secretary for small business, housing and community development, will coordinate feeral grant money for Detroit. (Carlos Osorio / AP)
Washington —The White House point person overseeing the Obama administration's on-the-ground efforts to help Detroit after its bankruptcy filing is coming to the city this week for the first of a series of regular meetings.
Don Graves, a deputy assistant U.S. Treasury secretary for small business, housing and community development, will hold meetings in Detroit Tuesday through Thursday, a White House official confirmed. David Dworkin, a housing policy adviser at Treasury, and Gina Metrakas at the Housing and Urban Development Department, also will make the trip.
They are expected to discuss blight elimination strategies with Linda Smith, CEO of East Side community group U-SNAP-BAC, and former Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts, who is now the city’s chief land officer.
On Sept. 27, the Obama administration sent several cabinet officials and top White House officials to Detroit to announce plans to free up as much as $300 million in federal aid to assist the city. The same day, officials announced that Graves would be the on-the-ground point person on Detroit for the Obama administration. The White House has declined to say precisely how much of the money is new, but most had previously been awarded.
But that effort got delayed by the 16-day-partial government shutdown that ended Thursday. One of Graves’ tasks is to ensure the federal money is being spent wisely. The officials plan to reach out to a diverse range of grassroots groups, government officials, business leaders and philanthropic groups.
The White House has repeatedly ruled out a federal bailout for Detroit — or any aid that could head off restructuring while in Chapter 9 bankruptcy — but the administration since August has been holding a series of meetings with high-level officials looking ways to help the city, and for grants and other federal programs that could benefit the city on a long-term basis.
Graves reports directly to Gene Sperling, the White House National Economic Council director who is leaving the administration at the end of the year, and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who heads the Office of Management and Budget. He is the former director of public policy for the Business Roundtable and was previously a policy adviser for the Treasury's Office of Domestic Finance in the Clinton administration.
“You have nearly $300 million in resources that are being expedited, pledged, re-purposed for the economic development and revitalization of Detroit,” Sperling told reporters last month, adding the funds are the product of two months of work and meetings of the Obama administration and with private foundations. “This is an ongoing effort. We are going to stay at it.”
Graves’ appointment was announced Sept. 27 at a closed-door meeting of top Obama administration officials — including Sperling, Attorney General Eric Holder, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan — with Michigan and Detroit government and community leaders. Previously, he was a partner at Graves, Horton, Askew & Johns, LLC.
Dworkin is a graduate of Detroit Country Day and the University of Michigan, and spent a decade at Fannie Mae in senior positions. He also served as a congressional aide and the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs during President George H.W. Bush’s administration.
His online biography says he was a freelance foreign correspondent and photographer for The Detroit News from 1984 through 1985, where he covered the war in Afghanistan. Prior to that, he worked at the Ann Arbor News from 1982-84. In 1984, he was the first Western journalist to cross the Safed Koh mountain range in the winter with the Islamic fundamentalist rebels fighting in the region known as Tora Bora, his online biography says. He didn’t return a message seeking comment.
The Treasury Department has been a key player in finding funds for Detroit, including agreeing to transfer some "Hardest Hit" funds from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to blight removal.
The funds include $3 million in Justice Department funds for hiring new police officers, establishing a bike patrol, supporting prisoner re-entry programs and supporting youth anti-violence programs. The government also will give expedited access to $25 million in FEMA funding that will enable the hiring of 150 firefighters and purchasing of equipment to prevent and detect arson.
Across the federal government, agencies are working to help the city, an official said. Detroit's struggling street lighting system will get assistance through a technical partnership between the Department of Energy, Detroit's Public Lighting Authority, and DTE Energy. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago will host a meeting to try to attract potential investors through tax credits.
A number of foundations also are announcing help for the city, providing $15 million to cultivate Detroit entrepreneurs and small businesses through continued funding for the New Economy Initiative from the Ford, Kresge and Knight foundations.
The White House said it will deploy a "tech team" of leading city chief technology officers to bring innovation to Detroit's city services through the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy — and the White House CTO will visit Detroit next month. The secretaries of education and labor also plan a visit to Detroit before the end of the year.
Detroit already gets nearly $300 million a year in 71 separate annual federal grants to support policing, transportation and reducing blight, among other areas. The city has failed to comply with the terms of many of those grants, and the federal government has over the years frozen some of the funding.