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Long before anyone thought Democrat Gretchen Whitmer had a shot at becoming the next governor, Warren Evans, the Wayne County Executive, was already on board a campaign that was changing managers too frequently. As other potential Democratic candidates were seeking meetings with Evans to gauge his support, the leader of Wayne County had already decided to be in the Whitmer camp.

Why?

“She is very savvy in the political world and she is an independent person. At the end of the day she will make the call,” Evans told me in a candid interview last Thursday.

Through the Urban Alliance, a network of African-American elected leaders of cities and counties across the state, which he founded, Evans took Whitmer on a listening tour to 15 communities. He wanted to get Whitmer early in front of audiences that statewide Democratic candidates traditionally would only visit at the 11th hour.  Whitmer understood the significance of those outreach efforts because whenever she was questioned about her struggles with name ID in urban areas like Detroit, she didn’t hesitate to let people know she had Evans’ backing.

Given that his candidate of choice from day one is now the governor-elect, Evans wants the incoming administration of Whitmer to reflect the needs of Detroit and Wayne County.

“There has to be a design on how to fund Detroit Public Schools Community District,” Evans said about a district that has deteriorated under state control for years. “The formula for what you do for the schools is important.”

The need for state funding of the district is even more dire now that the rating agency Moody’s recently indicated that additional funding would be needed for the district to continue on a path to recovery.

During the campaign, I asked Whitmer about her commitment to funding DPSCD.

“If the restructuring of legacy debt for DPSCD is responsible for both the district and taxpayers, I would certainly consider it,” she said. “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and fight to make sure our public schools have the resources they need to help our students and educators get ahead.”

Evans believes support for DPSCD is necessary.

“There is no question that without an influx of significant money the infrastructure in the public schools is going to be unbearable,” Evans said. “The ceilings in the rooms can’t leak and the furnaces have to work. These are critical issues we must address for our children.”

Next on the list for Evans is the Detroit Metro Airport, which he said is an anchor for economic development.

“You have a great airport,” Evans said. “The Michigan Economic Development Corporation can do a much better job to market the airport to bring in more jobs and revenue.”

He added, “Then the other issue is the roads infrastructure and how we generate revenue. We need to put every dime into road improvements. Criminal justice reform is another issue we must confront. I want to see that there is a systemic attention on these things and an understanding of where we are going.”

But Evans realizes that unlike Oakland County, his county is also home to a high concentration of poverty. That means something ought to be done for those living below the poverty line, including families that are endlessly trapped in a cycle of debilitating inequality with little to no incomes for survival.  

“If we do the right thing on workforce development, we can get people trained and put them to work. I hope there is a vision for Detroit and Wayne County because workforce development is directly connected to poverty,” Evans said. “We need a comprehensive structure that can plug in all of the ad hoc workforce programs tied to private industry, trade unions and connect them to churches and organizations that are sensitive to disadvantaged communities.”

Because he helped boost Whitmer’s campaign when others sat on the fence or were simply reluctant to back her, Evans, said he doesn’t want to be viewed as some sort of a political godfather.

“As long as Wayne County and Detroit fare well in her administration and the issues I care about are addressed is what matters to me,” Evans said. “I think she has the openness to listen and to evaluate our concerns.”

But the CEO of Wayne County quickly noted that Whitmer, “has to do some trade-offs in Lansing. But we need to know that there is a plan and a desire to follow the plan to help our people. At the heart of all of this, how do you perpetuate a future for people?”

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.

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