Bankole: Gilbert may be Detroit’s bet on Trump
President Donald Trump, in defending his billionaire-filled cabinet recently at an Iowa rally, said that he doesn’t want anyone who is poor to be in top economic posts in his administration.
“I love all people — rich or poor — but in those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person,” Trump said.
“Someone said, ‘Why’d you appoint rich person to be in charge of the economy?’ I said, ‘Because that’s the kind of thinking we want. They are representing the country. They don’t want the money. They have to give up a lot to take these jobs.”
Critics reacted immediately, describing the comments as crude and insensitive to the plight of the poor. Some suggested that Trump has a disdain for the masses of people who are economically alienated.
But there could be another explanation for Trump’s comments: He is impressed by riches. He has faith in billionaires. He will listen to people who command vast wealth and resources, possibly because he sees himself as a member of the billionaire class.
If that line of reasoning stands, then maybe Detroit will have a chance with Trump through the city’s billionaire investor Dan Gilbert, the founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and Bedrock, the real estate arm of his business empire.
Gilbert, who has purchased about 90 buildings downtown and is unquestionably driving much of the revival of the city’s business district, was at the White House on June 28 for a meeting with Trump and administration officials.
At the White House meeting, the president at one point called out Gilbert, the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, to join a photo shoot with members of the Chicago Cubs, the 2016 Major League Baseball champions. That created a buzz on social media and offered another glimpse at how comfortable Trump is around wealthy business people.
But beyond the buzz about Gilbert’s public camaraderie with the president lies the question of whether Detroit’s quintessential investor can use his influence to get the Trump administration to help acquire resources for the city’s ongoing revitalization efforts.
Or to put it another way: Can Gilbert, who has a major stake in how the Motor City fares, get Trump to make the rebuilding of Detroit a priority for his administration?
These questions are on the minds of many waiting to see what a Trump agenda for Detroit looks like, especially at a time when the administration’s position on a wide range of issues in the city remains unclear. We know that during the 2016 campaign, Trump gave a speech at the Detroit Economic Club promising a rebirth, while lambasting the city as the product of failed liberal policies.
In our interview, Gilbert said: “The meeting with President Trump and his administration was the start of what is sure to be many more conversations. It was an incredibly positive first step to help the president and his team understand both the progress we have made, and the hurdles we still have in Detroit and Cleveland.”
He added, “The administration is still developing its plan to help cities thrive. We look forward to being part of the conversation to find ways businesses can work with government, both at a local and national level, to improve the lives of those in strong Midwestern cities.”
That plan will be scrutinized to see whether it includes resources to help with removing blight in the city, which was a key part of former President Barack Obama administration’s involvement with Detroit. In fact, the administration at the time pumped millions of dollars into anti-blight efforts through the Hardest Hit Fund, a U.S. Treasury Department program.
Gilbert at the time co-chaired the blight task force.
“Since the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force study, that was issued in 2014, the city has demolished more than 10,000 blighted properties. We still have a big challenge ahead of us, but with the continued focus of all stakeholders, Detroit has the ability to be blight-free in less than 10 years,” Gilbert said. “Our neighborhoods also benefit when we breathe new life into homes that have fallen into disrepair, but where it is still economical to rehabilitate the property.”
How do Detroiters feel about Gilbert potentially becoming an intermediary between Detroit and the Trump administration?
“Because cities have growth and development needs at all times, personal politics aside, it is critical that key individuals, who are building within the city, have access to both the ear and purse strings of the current administration,” said DeAmo Murphy, a Detroit urban consultant. “Dan Gilbert clearly has that access and is positioned to gain greatly personally, professionally, and I hope collectively in the best interest of all Detroiters.”
“... The bigger questions are: What exactly will he ask for? How will it impact us here in Detroit? What is the timeline to see progress? Who will be the biggest winners/losers in the ask?”
When Trump rolls out his plan for cities, it will be met with these and many other questions. And Gilbert, no doubt will or must be asked directly or indirectly to leverage his White House access for the good of Detroit.
It only makes sense that the man who is largely credited with rewriting a new narrative of a city once written off as having nothing much to offer to investors, be seen as advocating for its needs.
All the more reason why leveraging the Trump administration to complement revitalization efforts should be a matter of urgency here.
The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.