Maybe a caravan of Detroit demolition trucks needs to drive to Washington D.C. and plead with Congress for a change in policy that would increase minority participation in the federal Hardest Hit Funds.
Maybe black contractors need to marshal a high-powered delegation to the nation’s capital and plead their own cause for more action in the city’s demolition program just as Detroit’s automakers lobbied for federal intervention during the recession.
This may be a necessary course of action because Mayor Mike Duggan is basically saying he can’t do anything as it relates to local preference for these contractors because federal rules restrict him.
“When the federal government gives you money, the feds consider it to be the money of all taxpayers in the country. So no federal program allows you to have local preferences. Our team is following the federal rules and we have no legal ability to offer local preference,” Duggan told this newspaper on Monday.
The mayor seemed to be responding to a Detroit City Council hearing about the demolition’s diversity woes that show a 28 percent minority involvement including 16 percent for blacks in the $148 million federal program.
But the issue in question for me is not so much about what the rules state. The bigger issue is what Duggan himself will do to enhance diversity instead of going around reciting federal rules according to his own interpretation.
Duggan has options. He can sit back and keep pointing at federal rules or he can go to Washington and specifically lobby for the rules to satisfy the diversity needs of Detroit. He knows when and how to fight for what he wants.
When he was pushing for auto insurance reform to lower rates for Detroit drivers, he galvanized a bipartisan coalition in Lansing for a change in the state’s no-fault insurance laws. Despite the failure of the proposal because of flaws, the mayor was insistent on getting his plan through. He vowed to continue fighting for reform after his reelection. In fact, billboards have now surfaced around town to reignite his efforts to get the attention of the Legislature on the matter again.
The mayor can put his political capital behind the demolition issue and build a similar alliance to include members of the Michigan Congressional delegation and work to expand the rules.
This nation’s long and historic quest for inclusion always rested on the noble and redeeming efforts of political leaders who did not rely on certain rules as the basis for the limitations of the exercise of their power. Instead, they courageously authorized new rules to include those long overlooked by the old rules.
For example, the legacy of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and his use of executive authority to expand opportunities for black businesses at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has been a national model of inclusion for big city mayors. His plan serves as a manifesto for equality in the American experiment.
No other place should emulate that kind of exemplary leadership than Detroit, the largest majority black city in America.
When President Lyndon Johnson went to Howard University in June of 1965 and boldly decreed a new era of equality, it was swiftly codified by September of that year with a groundbreaking Executive Order 11246 implementing affirmative action. Johnson knew he was standing on the crucible of history and he rightfully responded to the cries of blacks that for centuries before fell on deaf ears.
History has provided a clear blueprint for Duggan to mandate diversity as a strong feature of this recovery and to stop blaming federal rules for inaction.
Detroiters are not asking for the impossible. They simply want their mayor to work for them and to show he can relate to their needs.
I’ve had conversations with numerous black contractors who are afraid to go public with their complaints about this recovery for fear of retaliation. Just last week at a funeral for the late Rev. Gregory Roberts, a longtime political strategist, several of them were privately airing their grievances to me, wondering when the opportunity will be extended to them.
Let’s not fool ourselves. This post-bankruptcy recovery under the Duggan era is lacking in inclusion.
Notwithstanding federal rules, history is beckoning on Mayor Mike Duggan to heed the call and replicate the actions of past leaders.
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