Bankole: Poorer residents need a voice in mayor’s race

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

What Detroit needs for a strategic turnaround across this city is not another rollout of plans to convert downtown buildings into a Taj Mahal. The city’s business district will always take care of itself, evidenced by the current investments pouring in.

What we need is a comprehensive and serious plan that would surgically address the grinding poverty that has left many residents desolate and angry in this city while confining little children — 60 percent of them — to an uncertain future.

The bad news is that no mayoral candidate in recent memory has ever launched an anti-poverty platform during his campaign.

Election after election, we hear the same talking points: bring back the neighborhoods, fight crime, tackle blight. While these issues are central to revitalizing the city, past candidates have not offered a clinical solution to poverty, which is at the core of many of the city’s problems.

None of the mayoral candidates, including Mike Duggan, has presented a solid anti-poverty program.

In fact, I don’t recall any mayor in the last decade devoting a major part of his state of the city address to fighting poverty. Because it appears reducing poverty has never been a priority, voters have not demanded much on the topic from those who seek to lead them.

In some cases, residents have simply given up because past elections have not produced much that addressed the living conditions in their neighborhoods.

This time around, we have an opportunity to force the candidates to go where previous contenders have not gone before: roll out a clear-cut plan to address poverty.

Detroiters should insist that at least one of the mayoral debates focus solely on poverty so the candidates can directly explain what kinds of intervention programs they will create to address the deep social and economic inequality that is so pervasive in the city.

Much of the anger about downtown and Midtown is not simply because people are dismissive of the need to ensure a fully functioning business district. It is not that they are not appreciative of what some companies downtown are doing as responsible corporate citizens in the business district.

That anger is there because those who have been cut out of economic opportunities in Detroit only see, for the most part, press conferences where politicians salivate, while rolling over to endorse the next big thing happening downtown.

Meantime, these residents are being told by the same elected officials to wait before development can arrive in their neighborhoods.

They are further incensed by the unbelievable red tape to get city hall to move on an issue — like tearing down an abandoned house on the block. On the other hand, when it is an issue involving the downtown heavyweights, city hall moves with all deliberate speed to address the issue in question.

That kind of disparity creates an ugly exclusionary boundary between those who are poor and the political leaders they put in office, who have the levers of power and access to those who control resources. That is what has given rise to the two-Detroits scenario that has been simmering for a while and will be front and center of this year’s mayor’s race.

The question now is whether the next mayor of Detroit can come up with well thought-out policies to reduce the dangerous and unacceptable inequalities prevalent in the city. The only way for us to find that out is to get the candidates to start offering a roadmap to drastically reduce poverty.

That a 2014 Census report listed Detroit as the poorest big city in the nation, with 39.3 percent of residents living below the poverty line, should be a matter of utmost concern and priority for the city’s next chief executive.

Yes, the next mayor should commit to a plan that will help those who feel economically and socially vulnerable and alienated get a plausible fresh start.

Twitter: @bankieT

The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.