Back to the Front
The MT interview with Fred Durhal Jr.
Published: July 24, 2013
MT: That has not stopped countless …
Durhal: But that’s their problem. My problem is to know what I’m good at and then get there and do it. And I think that Dave Bing will probably go down in history here in the city of Detroit as one of the worst mayors this city has ever had. And that’s a shame because really some of this stuff happened and he couldn’t stop it, but he didn’t have the tools to even recognize that we were in the danger zone until the tragedy hit us.
MT: So Dave Bing is to the city as Gerald Ford was to the country?
Durhal: Yes. Sharp, yes. The city was so racked by the Kilpatrick scandal that somebody who was just kind and soft-spoken and — he allayed your fears, he made you feel like, “Oh wow, I’ve been a professional, I’ve been successful in basketball, I’ve been successful in ... Dave Bing will put the fire out and make things calm down,” and he did do that, I give him credit for that.
But when it came to running the city and managing it, and administering the departments under his control, he did an awful job at doing that.
Listen, 59 people left his administration over the four-year period that he had. Six police chiefs in five years. So you wonder about public safety — how the hell are you going to have public safety if you can’t even keep a police chief? I just think that there was a mismatch, that’s all.
He was not suited, he did the best he could, and probably will until he leaves in January, but the whole point I think is this — the city needs a strong leader. You may not agree with that leader all the time, but one thing about it, if you’ve got something to put out there, put it out there and then let people kind of flip it over, turn it inside out and see if it’s something they can deal with. And if not, you’ve gotta be smart enough to coalesce with people so that you can get the desired result.
The fights he’s had with city council, some of them are natural. I’ve been asked by other members of the press about the relationship between the mayor’s office and city council. Well I lived that, so I do understand it. All I can tell you that is that the mayor, Coleman Young, taught me a long time ago: Get five of the nine members. OK? And sometimes you have to interchange those members based upon what the issue is, but you get your base five people and those are the people that you stick with.
So actually, you’re really dealing with all nine of them but you deal with them as a unit, and not as individuals. You treat them well as individuals, but when it comes to policy making, if there are differences, then you work those differences out, one on one. Same thing I do up in the state legislature, it’s the same thing I’m going to employ when I’m mayor.
You’ll have very few fights between me and city council because when I develop policy I’m going to have a council member or two there to be right in the middle. It’s hard to fight your shit.
MT: What would your administration’s top three priorities be and how long would the voters need to wait before seeing any results.
Durhal: I put myself on a 100-day plan. The first 100 days are going to be the most important in my administration … in the following way: A) Public safety. We’re going to have a police chief who is going to be able to do the things that need to be done to return calm, peace and quiet to the city of Detroit.
We’re going to have a chief of police who is going to be able — at my direction —implement the program that I want to implement. We’re going to take two-man squad cars off of the streets, and we’re going to split them so you have one-man patrol cars and a thousand of them out in the streets, patrolling all over.
If I do that, it wouldn’t cost a dime, only thing it’s going to cost us are some cars. And since we’ve got our rich folks that are coming to the table, and adding new police cars and fire trucks and all of that, I would go to those people and say, look this is what we need in order to make this happen, can you help me?
You did 100 cars can you do 100 more? Can you imagine what happens with 200 [additional] patrol cars in the streets of the city of Detroit?
MT: This reporter would likely get a traffic ticket.
Durhal: Well you probably would, but let me say this to you: You will also get safety. The neighborhoods will be safe. Downtown can still do the stuff they do downtown, but out there in the neighborhoods, at Telegraph and I-96, you don’t have to worry about being robbed, shot and killed because you’re going to have cops patrolling in all the neighborhoods of the city.
I’m a community man, and if that’s one of my problems, it’s a problem. I came from the community, I’ve been a block club president. I’ve been in organizations all of my life. I’m kind of like Barack Obama in that I’ve been an organizer. I understand what has to go on at Joy Road and Linwood at midnight.
We’ve gotta have police present out there because that’s when people stick you up at the gas station and take your car. That’s when people break into folks’ houses. I’ve had reports of people having their home broken into while they were still in the house.
MT: That’s not only endemic to just the city.
Durhal: It happens in the suburbs as well. The whole issue of crime is tied to unemployment, which is plan number two. I’m going to work like hell to make sure that people get back to work, because getting a job is the best way to fight crime. Because if people’s hands are busy doing their work, they ain’t got time to be criminals.
If we continue to let this go like it’s been going, the job preference, the job of choice is going to be being a drug dealer, and that’s something I think this city doesn’t want, need, or will tolerate.
And the third thing, while I’m talking, is about neighborhood conservation and stability. We’re losing a lot of houses out here, and a lot of those people are not leaving, they’re just [playing] Chinese checkers: Moving around to different places. I want to stop that. I think that we can stop it.
I talked recently with the folks at Quicken Loans, and I have an idea that I think makes a lot of sense. Why don’t we have a mortgage that is built upon your ability to pay? If my son is making $25,000 a year, he can’t afford to pay $500 a month for a place to live. He’ll never make it.
We need to look at the fact that $25,000, this is a percentage of his income and we’re going to set the mortgage this way, but instead of being a 30-year fixed, we’re making a 40-, 45-year fixed [note].
What are we doing with car notes now? We started out in the old days, you had 36 months was the longest time, you had 24 months — and then they raised it to 60 months. And now it’s 72. So people are paying cars on a spread out basis, OK? Which is great for the finance companies, because you’re talking about interest, baby. That’s how they make their money. And I think that would help solidify the neighborhood.
Look, you won’t have foreclosures, because people will be able to afford it based on the income that they have. Dad works and has a fixed income; his income is going to be what it is for now on. So why in the hell do you put him in a situation where he’s got to go out and scuffle to make up the part he can’t afford to pay in the rent? The rent is $700 a month and he’s only getting $300, what do we do?
MT: With all due respect, nobody’s forcing Dad to live in a place that’s $700 a month.
Durhal: Well you’ve got to remember, a lot of these folks were living in these places prior to all these actions taking place. What the banks primarily did was put people out of their own homes because in some cases people had their homes paid for.
MT: Predatory lending, which is what it sounds like you’re speaking to, is separate and aside from people taking on too much mortage.
Durhal: Well if you take predatory lending, and you mix it with economic conditions that are negative, you’ve got a hell of a soup — and that’s where foreclosure comes in.
Most of the foreclosures that have taken place have not been tax foreclosures, they’ve been mortgage foreclosures, and those are the ones that I would key on with people in the industry and say, “Look. Let’s do this, let’s set a base minimum. You’ve got to be able to make this much money and you’ve got to be able to pay this much a month to get X house; four bedroom, three bedroom, whatever it is.”
Because, most of it is not brand-new housing, it’s housing that existed for years and years and years. My aim is to keep a person in the house, I’d rather do that than wait 48 hours and have the damn place stripped down to the bare — where if a person did buy the house, they gotta put $50,000 in the house in order to make it habitable.
MT: So you’re really talking about restructuring current loans versus someone going out and getting a new mortgage.
Durhal: Well I said that to Quicken, and you should’ve seen the reaction. Their eyes all opened up like this [very wide]. They hadn’t thought about doing that, and I think that it makes a lot of sense. It’s a win-win for everybody. They win because of the length of the contract and the interest rate; the consumer wins because they’re going to get a product that will allow them to stay, stick and stay, in the neighborhood; and most people in Detroit like where they live.
MT: You spoke to some of the more impoverished neighborhoods of the city, which prompts the next question: Much has been made over the gentrification of Midtown and the urban renewal that has taken place downtown, but to those residents who don’t live in those two bubbles, how can your administration help promote urban renewal?
Durhal: Well I’m glad you asked that. I’m the only candidate in this race who has helped build a community. I was the executive director at the Virginia Park Citizen District Council, in the area where the riots started in 1967.
We completely rebuilt that entire community, and it took 13 years to get it done, but we got it done, and it has a community owned shopping center that used to host the Farmer Jack and the Steakhouse and all of that; and things have changed so the people living there now have changed, but it’s still viable, it’s still working.
We spent $41 million of urban renewal money in order to make that change happen, and I think that was one of the greatest things that happened in this country. It’s only one of two community-owned shopping centers. We went out and sold bonds to our folks and they bought interest into owning the shopping center, so it’s a success.
As I did that, I’d be looking at other parts of the city. Particularly, the Grandmonts and other areas of the city on the east side where there are pockets of abandonment, Brightmoor and Southwest Detroit.
I think that Southwest Detroit used to be self-contained, but it is not that way anymore. You know part of my district takes in Southwest Detroit and down where Marathon in expanding. It looks like hell down there now, but they’re buying up all the property down there so they can facilitate the expansion.
But the point of the matter is that everywhere in this city ought to be a good place to live and that’s what I’m after; I’m after making sure that Woodbridge is okay, making sure that Rosedale Park is okay, Indian Village is okay, East English Village. All of those sections of town have a unique thing about them and I think that, as part of culture, as part of the joy of living in the city of Detroit, you [should] appreciate all the different parts of the city.
And I think that any mayor who’s going to be there and be successful is going to have to incorporate into his plan a way to get into the nexus of these communities and begin to figure out how to make them good.
MT: How would you promote co-operation between the city and your various county executive counterparts?
Durhal: I’m going to do just like the president of the United States does with foreign leaders, stay on the damn telephone with them, meet with them whenever it’s possible, discuss with them what the dos and the don’ts and the ifs and the cans, and try to make something out of it.
MT: There is a plague of abandoned homes in this city that an executive could probably spend his or her entire first four years on just that issue. How does the city deal with that scourge?
Durhal: I think two ways: One, and I’m impressed with the Pulte action that’s going on, I think that’s fantastic what he’s doing by tearing some of these houses down. Obviously as fast as they tear them down we’re encountering new ones and that has to be chilled. But secondly what I want to do is talking to people like Habitat for Humanity and getting Habitat to co-op with city of Detroit and rebuild certain sections of the city.
But if we don’t get people jobs, they’re not going to be able to be property owners and they’re not going to be able to be successful leases and renters.
MT: You have a geographically expansive city where 2 million once lived, now barely 700,000 call it home, and where some residents are the only occupant left on an entire city block. Ideas have been floated to truncate the city’s residential neighborhoods. Is that feasible? Possible?
Durhal: Not for me. Detroit has 139 square miles, I love every one of those square miles — I ain’t giving up no damn territory, no. I don’t know of a city in America that has shrunk itself that way.
Saying that we’re not going to provide services to this section and we’re going to spend all of our resources in this section, I think it’s wrong. I think what we ought to do is to look at what is going wrong in each section, rather than what is going good in the other sections, we need to concentrate on what is going bad.
That’s when the federal government steps in. We have a relationship with HUD; HUD has an office right here in the city of Detroit. There is no reason why we should not be in there with HUD every single day trying to look at these 139 square miles and say, “OK, how do we bring back to the city of Detroit some of the housing?”
Understanding this, houses were built on single lots, you could go on the east side of Detroit and in some west side neighborhoods stick your hand out the bathroom window and touch the other house. We know that’s not practicable and quite frankly the state law says you can’t do that anymore.
What we need to be able to do is to build houses for people who want to stay in the city of Detroit. Listen, if you go to Livonia and buy a house, you’re going to pay way much more than you would ever pay in Detroit.
The reason why is because the land is higher [in value]. In Detroit, you have an opportunity to buy land at a bargain price. People are swallowing it up as fast as they can — in certain neighborhoods.
See I’m a guy who believes in looking at the bad first. If you’ve got a mouth full of teeth you need to key on the cavity, because if you don’t do that, you’re going to end up with more cavities than you’ve got teeth.
And so my position is to do what a dentist does: Go and find the things that are wrong, work on straightening those things out, and sometimes it’s going to take a while; Detroit didn’t get to being Detroit overnight.
Detroitis 300-some-odd-years-old. Listen, it ain’t gonna get done, it may not get done during my administration, but I will tell you this — we will begin it, and I think that we will be fine.
MT: People are moving to Livonia over Detroit not just because the land is more attractive, but they feel safer — the schools are better. Public services are more efficient. So how can you, Mr. Mayor, bring those elements that are attractive to people looking for homes in Livonia back to the city?
Durhal: I think that the way you do that, again, is tackling the problem. The problem is education. The mayor needs to be working with the board of education, whether that is the superintendent, the board itself, or whether it’s an emergency manager — or a combination of those things.
The mayor ought to — and I would not want to be superintendent [because] you gotta run the city you ain’t got time to be running the board of education — but what you do want to have is an opportunity to share city resources, and for them to share what they have with the city so that we can educate these kids.
Because the power in the future is to education of these children, and any mayor, and I don’t care what his position is, has got to deal with that, because we’re losing our kids to charter schools, we’re losing our kids to the state.
We send kids to college, they get a degree, and they’re out of here. We’ve got to give them a reason to stay, and I think that’s part of the mayor’s responsibility. I think in the area of public safety — if folks don’t feel safe they ain’t coming. You wouldn’t be down here right now if you didn’t know that the police are down here all the time and you’ve got cops downtown.
MT: I’m here because this is where my job is.
Durhal: Well I know, but I’m saying to you though, you feel safer venturing out knowing that every few feet or so you’re going to see a cop car. If you’re out in the neighborhood in the boonies, you don’t see the police. In fact, you can drive from the east side to the west side and take a half an hour to do it, and you’ll never see a police car. We’ve done it.
So the whole issue of public safety has to do with your line of sight; you’ve got to see something in order to believe it’s there. Criminals aren’t stupid. If they know a cop car is running through every 20 or 30 minutes, and I don’t know where they’re going to be next, they’re going to be more reluctant to get involved in criminal activity.
MT: Isn’t that the whole concept of substations?
Durhal: Yes. Oh, I’d open them. I don’t have a problem with it. I think it’s great, but we have to end the 12-hour shifts because that has the potential of putting the city in a very dangerous legal position. After the 10th or 11th hour a person is beat down, you know how it is. You come here and if you work 8 hours and then have to work two more to meet your deadline, you’re like “ugh … I don’t care if I spelled this name wrong.”
But the point is this: Safety, education, and neighborhood preservation. Clean the damn city up. The city looks like hell. It ain’t never looked like this, but we’ve got to do some cultural changing too, to stop these young people from stopping at a traffic light, rolling down the windows and throwing out their McDonald’s stuff all over the ground.
I’ve seen them do that, I’ve pulled people over and made them go get the stuff and put it back in their cars. Take your garbage home with you; don’t throw it in the street. We have to pick that up, you’re in my living room. Don’t do that.
That was [New York Mayor] Giuliani’s philosophy. You know what, if the city looks better, the people will be more respectful. Nobody wants to live in a dump. And if you live in a dump you begin to adopt a dump attitude, and you’ll throw stuff anywhere because you’re in a dump. It goes in with the other crap.
The mayor’s responsibility is to be the ambassador of this city, go out there and go fishing and find some jobs and industry and what have you. I’m going to spend a lot of time doing that, and when I’m not doing that I’m going to be meeting with the folks in the board of education and all of that to try and see what we can do together, the city and the board to be able to get kids educated.
I’m going to be meeting with community leaders on a constant basis because I’ve been a community leader, been a block club member. I know what it’s like to call DPW and they don’t respond. And all of those kinds of things are not going to happen while I’m the mayor.
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