Detroit is still moving

The pastor offers a last prayer before leaving: “Pray to God that we find our cars where we left them. – Amen”, the crowd nods. Thus ended, on September 16, an election meeting in the basement of the Pentecostal Temple Church on East Warren Avenue in Detroit. It’s the 216e meeting held by Mike Duggan, candidate for the municipal elections in November. He didn’t bother to lie, at least not on the essentials: “If I am elected, I will have no power. As long as the manager is there, you have no power, and neither does the mayor.” Everyone knows that the governor of Michigan, a Republican, took control of the city and appointed a “manager”, whom we would call, us, liquidator, come from Washington, who initiated the bankruptcy proceedings.

See the infographic: Detroit: the fall of “Motor City”

But this small black crowd from the eastern neighborhoods listened to the candidate unfold his program: seize abandoned houses to sell them or destroy them immediately, propose a move to the last inhabitants of a district which has only four houses, encourage the residents to take a picture of the dealers and the neighborhood squatters to send it to the town hall … Proposals that may seem surprising to those who are not from here, but the audience nodded like at mass – “Mmmm” – nodding his head. And when the word was given to them, many of them lined up in single file behind the microphone in the central aisle, awaiting their turn. Everyone started by giving their address; each time the room sighed and sympathized. They all came to talk about their house, the ultimate good, the ultimate bulwark when the neighbour’s house collapsed a long time ago. “The grass is so tall next to my house that I can’t see the children anymore when they go out to play” ; “There is no more light in our street.”

Every Sunday afternoon in the summer, people come to the corner of St Aubins and Frederick Street in eastern Detroit to picnic, drink, dance and listen to the blues.

If Mike Duggan is elected, he will be the first white mayor for forty years. Like his opponent, Benny Napoleon, former chief of police and still sheriff on the side of Wayne University, he is a Democrat because no Republican risks himself in this black and viscerally working-class city. “The campaign is sluggish. Usually there are campaign scenes everywhere. The next team will stay in the kitchens until the manager leaves.” explains Bankole Thompson, from Michigan Chronicle. The next mayor will not decide anything. The executive diagram posted online on the city’s official website is very clear: a multitude of traits and boxes that converge on the manager, Kevin Orr, a former lawyer specializing in bankruptcy. He has all power. Its mandate is two years. But another manager can be named after him. The mechanism is well known in Michigan, hit hard by deindustrialization. About ten cities are already under control. “All are black, democrats and poor, as if by chance … The governor sends people who come out of conservative foundations. He controls these cities from the outside”, Jerry sighs, leaning on The Bronx bar. You could hear on the radio that week that the manager of neighboring Flint was resigning to devote himself to his family. Another was immediately appointed. Alternation of managers elected per person.

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