March 3, 2009 at 1:00 am

Editorial: Cockrel's Cobo veto threat is right tactic

Detroit Mayor Kenneth Cockrel says he is willing to veto a City Council rejection of the Cobo Center authority and renovation deal. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit Mayor Kenneth Cockrel was right to tell the City Council Monday that he would go ahead and veto its rejection of the Cobo Center deal. The move sends a necessary message that there is some sanity in Detroit's city hall.

At the same time, the mayor is still working to salvage the deal by conferring with council members, an aide said. We hope Cockrel's two-track approach is successful. It's certainly worth a try.

By a vote of 5-3, the council last week rejected a plan that would have allowed for a much-needed $280 million renovation and expansion of the convention facility, which is a financial drain for the struggling city.

The deal, which would have created a new authority to govern Cobo, was crafted in state legislation with the cooperation of top regional officials and the blessings of the governor. The City Council didn't even have to vote on the deal. But it chose to reject it. A council member who was considered a swing vote, Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, said Monday she had no intention of reversing her decision.

If the mayor can save the deal in negotiations, fine. The legal circumstances surrounding a veto by Cockrel may be murky. An analyst for the City Council has issued an analysis contending that the terms of the legislation setting up the deal don't allow for a mayoral veto of the council's decision. But Cockrel has reportedly been reviewing all of his legal options and, in a letter delivered to council Monday, cited his City Charter authority to veto council actions.

There may well be a court challenge if the mayor goes ahead with the veto.

Still, a veto threat puts added pressure on the council and signals to the region and the state that obstructionism and misplaced nationalism aren't the sole modes of politics in the city. It's worth remembering that the deal was strongly recommended by the council's own fiscal analyst.

The plan gives Detroit, the state and Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties each appointees on a new governing board for the authority, which would take over the costs of running the facility. The arrangement provides Detroit with a payment of $20 million as compensation for lost parking revenue. It extends hotel and liquor taxes that are due to expire in 2015 for the facility and relieves the city of an annual $15 million cost in subsidizing the convention hall, as well as directing some state cigarette tax funds to Cobo.

Detroit would have as much say in the operation of the facility as the other local governments represented.

An expansion and renovation of the facility, as the council's own analysis notes, is an important factor in obtaining a long-term contract to retain the North American International Auto Show, which is Cobo's biggest tenant and vital to the identity of the region.

This is a very, very good plan.

Both Cockrel and his surviving rival for mayor, Dave Bing, have supported this deal in the face of irrational criticism of it, which speaks well for both of them. Cockrel has forcefully and justly denounced the council's rejection.

It is unlikely that Detroit will get a better deal. If immediate negotiations with the council falter, a veto may allow cooler heads in the region to do some more politicking on getting an extension to resuscitate the plan. At the least, it lets the other political players who signed on to this deal know that there is some hope in working with Detroit on other areas of mutual interest.

Cockrel's veto threat is right and necessary.