Gov. Rick Snyder has been a surprising and strong advocate for Detroit. Will Detroiters return the favor? (Paul Sancya / AP)
A Republican governor hunting for votes in Detroit might as well wear a blindfold. The city is so loyally Democratic that 60 percent of voters just walk into the booth, yank the donkey’s tail and walk out.
But there was Rick Snyder Thursday, on Jefferson Ave., opening a campaign office in a city that gave him less than 6 percent of its ballots in 2010. Why bother?
“Because they’re citizens of Michigan,” the governor says. “I campaigned in Detroit in the Republican primary in 2009, even though a lot of people told me I was crazy.”
If all politics are local, Snyder can make a good case for Detroit votes. No governor in modern history, Republican or Democrat, has devoted more time to Detroit. Snyder estimates Detroit occupies 20 percent of his working hours. He’s in the city every week.
His fingerprints are everywhere in Detroit.
There are more streetlights burning, less garbage piling up on the streets, a better working police department, more hope and help for school children and more jobs for the structurally unemployed because of Snyder’s engagement in the city.
When former Gov. Jennifer Granholm named an emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools, she walked away and left Robert Bobb to fight his battles on his own.
Snyder took his appointment of Kevyn Orr as a personal responsibility for making sure such a dramatic measure succeeded. He’s been a full partner in the rescue effort.
The governor won’t declare the mission accomplished, but he’s pleased with the progress.
“If we come out of bankruptcy this fall, that’s a major success,” Snyder says. “But there’s still a ways to go.”
Will his commitment to Detroit pay off for his reelection?
“I’m not doing it to get votes,” he says. “It will take a while for people to make the connection between what I’m doing and the progress in the city.”
Snyder has tried to erase the age-old divide between Detroit and the rest of Michigan. Getting the Detroit bailout package through the GOP-controlled Legislature was a major feat.
“For Michigan to succeed, we need Detroit to be on a path to success,” he says.
Ironically, Snyder’s work on behalf of Detroit may pay off more in the suburbs than in the city.
In polling last spring, suburban voters overwhelmingly approved of the job Snyder was doing in Detroit.
But only 20 percent of city voters felt the same way.
This despite Snyder’s hands-on role in pulling the city from the brink of insolvency and kicking in $350 million of state funds to mitigate the loss of pension benefits for retirees and save the Detroit Institute of Arts.
It begs the question: What’s a Republican got to do to get a vote around here?
Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on “MiWeek” on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.