GRAND RAPIDS — While Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was telling an Economic Club of Grand Rapids luncheon last week that he has removed 18,000 abandoned cars from the streets, picked up 13,000 tons of strewn trash, and balanced the city’s budget without laying off any police or fire personnel, about 200 Motor City cops, firefighters and medical workers were protesting their lack of a contract and poor working conditions.
Their message was that Detroit must spend more money on personnel and equipment to make the city safe. Kilpatrick, mayor since January, said the city doesn’t have the money, yet.
“I inherited a $169 million budget deficit the day I walked into the office,” he said to the luncheon crowd in the Welsh Auditorium last week.
But Kilpatrick didn’t come to Grand Rapids to talk about what it’s like to be mayor of the 10th largest economy in the nation, or how strongly he feels that Detroit’s revival hinges on the number of housing starts and social advances the city can make each year.
No, he came to share the podium with Mayor John Logie so they could promote urban unity and stress that the older cities are still the engines that drive the economy in Michigan. Each also talked about their ties to municipalities in their region and what the state could do to make their cities more vibrant.
Both said that the regional cooperation each receives from neighboring governments was good. Logie added that there was room for improvement, though, especially with Wyoming. Kilpatrick reported that his city’s relations with Wayne and Macomb county officials were very good.
The mayors, however, had different takes on how the state could make things better for their cities.
Logie, who has been heavily involved with a statewide urban-core mayoral group that has helped deliver legislation to revive industrial sites, said the state should rebate some of the tax dollars it gets each year from the older cities in Michigan.
He said getting back about 1.5 percent of that take could result in another $15 million to $20 million worth of revenue each year for the metro area, money that could be used as an economic incentive for development.
“The state should make the cities stronger, so they don’t have to rely on the state,” said Logie.
Kilpatrick said he wants his city to have more control to shape its own destiny and for the state to quit acting like an 800-pound gorilla.
“The state needs to leave us alone,” said Kilpatrick, a former Democratic leader in the state House.
Kilpatrick felt the urban cores need more help from the suburban cities than the state, because the core city is where many suburbanites work, so their ties are strong. He also hopes that a Marshall Plan can be developed to assist the public school systems in cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids.
“There are 10 recognized urban cities within the state of Michigan, which represents more than 80 percent of the state’s gross product. However, in the history of the Michigan Legislature, there has never been an urban agenda that proposes an investment in the engines that keep the state’s economy running,” said Kilpatrick.
The Detroit mayor said he also came here to bury the political hatchet that has divided the two cities for decades and to plant some seeds of cooperation because both have similar problems, such as older housing, troubled schools and low-income residents.
“These identical challenges should inspire collaboration among all of Michigan’s urban cities instead of dividing us,” said Kilpatrick. “Cities have to be strong for the state to survive.”