Detroit Councilman George Cushingberry's rough start to 2014 should be troubling to all who pull for Detroit. (Bryan Mitchell / Special to The Detroit News)
George Cushingberry gives every sign of being a train wreck waiting to happen for the city of Detroit. Barely more than a week into his term, the newly elected councilman has already embarrassed the city with bizarre behavior, and the likelihood of worse episodes ahead seems high.
The facts surrounding the traffic stop of Cushingberry last week by Detroit police aren’t entirely clear. We know he was pulled over after a short pursuit that may have involved an attempt to ram a police car, that he identified himself as a city councilman, that a police supervisor was called, that an open bottle of alcohol and marijuana were found in the car, and that he was ticketed and allowed to drive away without being asked to take a breath test for alcohol.
From there things turn bizarre, mostly because of Cushingberry’s clownish spinning of the incident. In a series of odd television interviews, he claimed, among other things, that the bottle was empty, that the marijuana belonged to his passenger — “he likes pot a lot,” Cushingberry posted on Facebook — and that they weren’t leaving a strip club, as media reports alleged — “We never saw a t--, Fox News is full of sh--” he said in another post.
Nice stuff from a guy who holds the No. 2 leadership on the City Council. Decorum is apparently not Cushingberry’s strength.
The most distressing part of this mess is Cushingberry’s outrageous claim that he was racially profiled by Detroit cops for being a black man driving an old car — as if that were a rare thing in the city.
He called the officers “Europeans” and “occupiers” in interviews, implying the cops were racially-motivated. There’s a slight problem with that narrative: One of the two officers was an African-American, according to police, a fact Cushingberry leaves out of his version of the story.
Cushingberry fashions himself a political wheeler-dealer, boasting this week that he masterminded the elections of the obstructionist Brenda Jones as council president and himself as president pro tem. He also told a reporter that he’s in control of Jones.
If it’s true that Cushingberry is pulling the strings on the council, the city has a huge problem. The councilman obviously has issues with judgment and veracity, and gives every impression of being unstable.
A police investigation is underway into how the traffic stop was handled. It will be most interesting to see if Cushingberry attempted to use his position to intimidate officers or attain special treatment for himself.
In the post-Kwame Kilaptrick era, Detroit must have zero tolerance for leaders who believe elected office comes with privileges and perks not available to its citizens. Detroit can’t tolerate one more entitled politician.
And it certainly can’t allow Cushingberry to become the visible face of its legislative branch. He is not the image Detroit wants to project to the rest of the world.
His colleagues on the council should relieve Cushingberry of his leadership responsibilities until the police investigation is completed. And if it turns out he bullied the cops, they should relieve the council of Cushingberry.
Detroit has had all of the Kwame Kilpatricks and Monica Conyers it can stand. Cushingberry shouldn’t be given the opportunity to join that Hall of Shame.