The Detroit Institute of Arts (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News, file)
In the movie epic about Detroit’s bankruptcy, Monday’s meeting at the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Rivera Court is a climactic and stirring scene.
In real life and real time, it marked a moment of triumph and tension, with many players still waiting to exhale.
Everyone seated beneath those grand murals of Detroit industry, depicting its sweat, labor and might, is an actor in the ongoing drama. From the bow-tied museum director Graham Beal, to the stocky, silver-haired Don Taylor representing retired police and fire employees, from Gov. Rick Snyder to the immaculately suited art patrons, the pride of accomplishment only goes so far.
This deal’s not quite done.
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr joked that this was the first time he’d been in the DIA without people worrying that he was there “to case the joint,” inspiring laughter more nervous than wholehearted.
With so many working parts, and so many people who don’t ordinarily speak to each other now going all “Kumbaya,” the “grand bargain” accomplishment is like the oversized Jenga tower built on Belle Isle for Grand Prix weekend — at once awe-inspiring and incredibly fragile.
Charged with raising $100 million for pensioners as a condition of its own survival, the DIA announced $26 million from “the Autos,” as the Big 3 are known in influential circles. Another $44 million is already committed, according to the DIA board chairman Eugene Gargaro, who intends to raise the full $100 million.
So cheers all around again to the Legislature, which authorized $195 million; to the governor, who encouraged the Legislature; to the foundations; to this never-before-seen southeastern Michigan teamwork.
The word “collaborated” is being used, past tense, rather than as wishful thinking. There is much talk about our “fates being inextricably linked,” as Reid Bigland, the Chrysler executive said, and “working together.”
So far, the spirit of good will is borne out in commitments by all these disparate factions: Thirteen foundations — who aren’t in the business of helping pensioners. The Republican-controlled state Legislature, which typically objects to Detroit. Three auto companies joining to make a $26 million contribution. And the DIA, usually fundraising for its own needs, is $70 million or so into raising $100 million to benefit Detroit retirees.
Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen saluted as “heroes of the bankruptcy” both Shirley Lightsey, who heads the Detroit employees retirees union, and Don Taylor, of the Detroit police and firefighters.
“You cannot eat principle and uncertainty does not pay the bills,” Lightsey said, explaining why she wants her members to vote for the bargain, even if it is just OK, rather than truly grand for most of them.
All these groups are working together, displaying solidarity and leadership, the way civic fathers do in old-fashioned history books.
A region grown infamous for modeling what not to do is showing off courage and commitment, social intelligence and communal generosity. Its public/private model for action is downright innovative.
As 32,000 current and former city employees study their ballots and ponder their future, the cameras roll, and the officials hold their breath. Nobody can take these workers — now cast to be the city’s saviors or spoilers — for granted.