May 29, 2014 at 1:00 am

Poll: Voters hopeful on Detroit's future, don't want DIA art sold

The Spirit of Detroit statue at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)

A majority of likely Michigan voters are confident a new class of Detroit leaders will succeed in revitalizing the state’s largest city after it potentially emerges from bankruptcy later this year, a new Detroit News/WDIV-TV (Local 4) poll shows.

About 55 percent of the 600 residents surveyed said they feel confident about Detroit’s turnaround, which hinges on getting buy-in from creditors and a bankruptcy judge’s approval of a plan to shed billions of dollars in debt.

The confidence level spikes to nearly 70 percent in Metro Detroit.

But out-state residents are less optimistic, with 43.6 percent saying they’re not confident compared with 41.3 percent being confident in the city’s revitalization, according to the poll.

“The sales job to out-state voters is going to take more time, and it’s going to take a more methodical campaign to get them on board with all of this,” said pollster Richard Czuba, president of the Chicago-based Glengariff Group.

In gauging voter moods toward Detroit’s bankruptcy exit plan, the May 20-22 survey also found 54.5 percent of 600 likely voters in Michigan oppose any sale of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ assets to fulfill pension obligations.

Nearly 25 percent said they would favor a partial art sale to satisfy Detroit’s debts to former employees, while 16 percent support auctioning off the entire 60,000-piece collection.

The poll’s margin of error is plus-minus 4 percentage points.

The poll results come as 32,000 Detroit pensioners are being asked to approve a “grand bargain” deal that boosts their retirement funds with $661 million from state and private sources in exchange for protecting the DIA from a bankruptcy fire sale.

Facing deeper cuts than pensioners, Detroit’s financial creditors contend the DIA collection could be sold for at least $1 billion, generating a greater recovery for all creditors, not just retirees.

Detroiter Theresa Dawson, 64, said she supports selling part of the DIA collection because the “grand bargain” would still impose a 4.5 percent cut to the pension of her 93-year-old father, Clanton Dawson of Detroit, who retired 30 years ago.

“I’d like to see them sell some of the art rather than cut his pension,” Theresa Dawson said. “I don’t want to see anybody lose something they worked for.”

City vs. out-state voters

The poll found a disparity in views between residents in Metro Detroit and other regions of the state.

While 68.7 percent of likely voters in Metro Detroit oppose any sale of Detroit’s art collection, the proportion fell to 39.4 percent of out-state voters rejecting the sale of art and 31.2 percent wanting to see a partial sale to repay city creditors owed $18 billion.

“What you see is a sharp divide in those protect-the-DIA numbers the minute you get into southeast Michigan,” Czuba said.

Among those who opposes selling any DIA art is Dan Keczmer, a 71-year-old Washington Township resident.

“I believe all Michiganders own that,” said Keczmer, a retired Ford Motor Co. union worker. “I don’t believe that should be used to pay the corruption debt of other politicians.”

Lynda Schrecengost, a 35-year-old unemployed Detroiter, agreed. She and her husband are art lovers and don’t want the art to be sold.

“We need to keep the things that we have,” Schrecengost said.

“Maybe they could sell off chunks of the city rather than the art that people had donated … for public display.”

The statewide survey also measured public perception of the state’s largest city as it struggles to emerge from bankruptcy and shed $9 billion in debts and employee legacy costs.

As the state Senate prepares to vote on $195 million in state aid toward the “grand bargain,” Keczmer has mixed emotions about throwing Detroit a financial lifeline. While he wants to see Detroit saved, he’s not sure sending money to the city for pensions to settle its bankruptcy is the best answer, especially after years of corruption.

“We all know the sins of the Kilpatrick era. And he wasn’t the only one,” Keczmer said. “Do I want to pay for that type of situation if it’s still there? Absolutely not. I kind of feel Detroit may not be near what it once was.”

Views on Detroit crime

The survey found perceptions of crime in Detroit differ between city residents and those outside its borders.

About 44 percent of Detroiters said crime is getting better compared with 23.5 percent who said it is worsening. By contrast, lower numbers of people in Detroit’s suburbs and out state said crime was improving.

Less than 30 percent of voters in Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties said crime was improving in Detroit, and numbers went as low as 6.3 percent in west and southwest Michigan and 13 percent in mid-Michigan.

The poll also found suburban Detroit voters give Gov. Rick Snyder credit for taking the state’s largest city into bankruptcy 10 months ago.

By a two-to-one margin, 37.2 percent of likely voters say Snyder has been good for Detroit, while 18.3 percent say the governor has been bad for the Motor City.

Support for Snyder’s handling of Detroit matters is stronger in the suburbs.

In parts of Wayne County outside the city limits, 51.5 percent of likely voters say Snyder has helped Detroit. In Oakland County, 47.6 percent say Snyder has been good for Detroit, while 40.8 percent of Macomb County likely voters approve of the governor’s actions there.

“This is playing very strongly with independent voters who have long wanted to see action to get Detroit on a solid financial footing, and they’re seeing that now,” Czuba said.

In an interview Wednesday, Snyder said he wasn’t confident the electorate would support his efforts to tackle Detroit’s long-standing financial problems.

“I had no assurance of that,” Snyder told The News.

“These were not easy decisions to make. There’s a lot of risk to a lot of the pieces through this continuing process. ... The bankruptcy was just the last stage of an extended process.”
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