Bankole: Put a Detroit focus on 2018 governor’s race

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

The race for the next governor of Michigan in 2018 is on with Democrat Gretchen Whitmer indicating last week that she is running. Other Democratic candidates may soon join the political fray to replace Gov. Rick Snyder.

The announcement by the former Senate minority leader, which came a little earlier than expected, is not a surprise because Whitmer has been considering a run for a while now.

On the Republican side, we can expect a slugfest or a political bloodbath to say the least between state Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley if either man insists on becoming the party’s gubernatorial nominee.

For Democrats, the city that will play a crucial role in this gubernatorial contest is Detroit. It contains the largest Democratic voting bloc in the state and yet it always falls short on the party’s top campaign priority list during statewide elections.

In the past we’ve seen Democratic gubernatorial candidates wait until three months before an election to set up an operation in the city because they believe — as it always happens — that Detroiters will flock to the polls like a lamb for the slaughter.

Because of that, these candidates think they don’t need to be in Detroit to vigorously campaign for votes. They don’t have to make their strongest case in a city that exemplifies all the urban issues that Democrats claim are in their wheelhouse — from jobs, insurance redlining to blight, crime and public education.

This level of complacency toward the city has become a hallmark of the party’s relationship with Detroit. Democratic candidates don’t need to show up early or frequently in the city during campaigns because they believe Detroit will always be there on Election Day without much demand.

That also explains why the party in the past did not see it fit to have an office in Detroit until Lon Johnson advocated for one three years ago when he was running for the chairmanship of the Michigan Democratic Party.

I recall in 2006 when former Gov. Jennifer Granholm was running for reelection. Her campaign gathered a group of Detroit religious leaders to appear for a press conference on her behalf to assure Detroit that she will end insurance redlining once and for all.

Granholm got reelected and Detroit is still dealing with insurance redlining. Nothing has changed.

The ministers who participated in that press conference were either knowingly or unknowingly used as a political tool to get people out to vote for Granholm.

Interestingly, another issue on the ballot that year, in the leadup to Granholm’s reelection, was a constitutional amendment on affirmative action, known as Proposal 2, which was playing heavily on the University of Michigan campus.

The issue — an important one for Detroiters because of its impact on black students and their future in higher education — was not a priority among Democrats overall. Only few of the state’s so-called heavyweight Democrats were willing to show public support for the issue despite its significance to their largest base.

I concluded then that the Democratic status quo probably did not publicly embrace affirmative action and make it a top issue simply to avoid upsetting the racial sensitivities of some white voters who were vehemently against it. Still if that was the case, Detroit supplies the party’s largest base.

Ironically, affirmative action was voted down at the ballot box and Granholm went on to serve a second term.

History affords us the opportunity to not repeat the mistakes of the past. The history of the Democratic Party’s engagement with Detroit is one fraught with unfulfilled promises and a lot of troubling and unanswered questions.

This time around, Detroit should not just roll over for any Democratic candidate whether it’s Gretchen Whitmer or whomever.

The city that embodies most of the urban issues in the state should no longer allow itself to be used for optics by any candidate — whether Democrat or Republican — in the gubernatorial campaign. Instead Detroit should demand real answers and a plan from the candidates to finally address revenue sharing, insurance redlining and other issues.

Detroit needs solutions not a press release from a political campaign.

Twitter: @bankieT

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910AM weekdays at noon. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.