Gov. Rick Snyder and President Barack Obama get along better than some Michigan Democrats would prefer. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
How many times have you heard a politician say something like, “We all have to come to the table” or “We all have to set aside our differences” to solve one problem or another for the good of the people?
If you didn’t already know, it’s a lot of insincere blather, and what’s going on in Detroit proves it.
If any place needs everyone at the table, setting aside their differences and pulling together — and all those other cliches — it’s Detroit. The city is bankrupt, nearly inoperable and at risk of disintegrating. Fortunately, they recognize that in Washington, and in Lansing. And in a rare display of effective bipartisanship, the Democratic Obama administration and the Republican Snyder administration are teaming to save Detroit.
A wide range of coordinated efforts — on public safety, blight, immigration, transportation, lighting, etc. — are underway that have the governor’s staff working with president’s top aides to help Detroit with ideas, manpower and money.
“We’ve built a very good working relationship with the White House,” says Dennis Muchmore, Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff. “They understand the magnitude of the problem and really want to help.”
Good news? Not for many Michigan Democrats, who are belly-aching that President Obama is giving Snyder too many opportunities to shine in an election year in which they hope to unseat the governor.
The grumbling began back in October, when three cabinet secretaries came to Wayne State University to announce $300 million in federal aid for Detroit. Snyder was on the podium, but Rep. Gary Peters, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, was left standing in the back of the room, well off camera, and Mark Schauer, Snyder’s challenger, was nowhere to be seen.
“The optics were really bad,” said a longtime Democratic operative. “You had cabinet secretaries handing a check to Snyder, the guy who rammed through right to work and is attacking union pensions. They had a chance to spotlight Gary Peters and they didn’t do it.”
A Detroit minister active in Democratic politics told me there’s increasing bitterness that the White House hasn’t taken a strong stand on protecting the pensions of city retirees from the bankruptcy process. He said that in working so closely with Snyder and Emergency Manager Kevin Orr, Obama is signaling he supports the governor’s strategy.
“The president isn’t in touch with what’s going on here,” he said.
The relationship between Washington and Lansing has been the subject of several Democratic meetings over the past few months. Labor unions are pushing the National Democratic Party to encourage the White House to distance itself from Snyder and work instead through the state’s Democratic congressional delegation.
That may serve politics, but it doesn’t serve Detroit. As Muchmore says, “There’s a certain urgency here to get things fixed. We don’t have time for politics.”
Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at nolanfinleydn and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on “MiWeek” on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.