By the Numbers
The MT interview with Lisa Howze
Published: July 24, 2013
As one of the youngest candidates in the primary race, Lisa Howze has spent the majority of her professional career outside of politics. A certified public accountant, she joined auditing behemoth Arthur Andersen following her graduation from the University of Michigan. Howze also spent two years as a representative in the State Legislature and earned her master’s degree in finance from Walsh College.
Metro Times: Why do you want to be mayor of Detroit?
Lisa Howze:I truly have a love for this city. I know it's easy for people to say that, but love is demonstrated by your willingness to sacrifice, and I know that people of this community have made sacrifice after sacrifice and not gotten really any results.
So I'm coming to the table [with the] understanding that the city can't get better unless life for the people here gets better first. Having experienced many of their same experiences, whether it's being born to a single mother, growing up in Detroit Public Schools, coming home to a house that had no lights or no gas because those utilities got caught off (because we couldn't afford to keep them at that time), things like that, that's Detroiters' everyday existence, in many cases.
MT: Why should the voters give you their support?
Howze:In order to lead people, you’ve gotta own your own power. I refuse to accept the fact that, as mayor, I will be powerless — because powerless people don’t need a powerless leader.
So, as mayor, I will come into the office with a vision and a plan on how we will address the city’s issues. Part of that is making sure our citizens are safe and secure, so public safety is my number one priority — and my budget will reflect that. The second thing is the budget — getting the finances fixed.
I’m the only candidate on this campaign trail who has articulated a clear, defined plan on how we meet our financial concerns in the city: Reducing the general fund deficit, and addressing our short-term cash flow needs and drain.
And No. 3: Making sure we responsibly pay down the debt. We don’t do so by selling off assets, we use our assets to generate revenues so we can then service the debt. Having that
clear and concise, or defined, line on how we get there is key. But I always say that we can fix the city’s finances, but if your finances are broken at home, [the city has] got a problem.
My plan to do that is through City Airport, in terms of maximizing the use of that airport to capitalize on an industry that, frankly, in the United States of America, generates $150 billion per year.
MT: Wasn’t some commercial variation of that tried once, when Pro Air made City its hub in ’97; and Southwest Airlines before that?
Howze: Part of the issue is twofold: Forced competition from Detroit Metro made it difficult for an airline to really thrive here in our local, smaller airport. And the second thing is the larger, commercial jets were having a problem landing at City Airport because of the length of the runway.
So when you ask, “wasn’t it tried before,” we had the issue of when they wanted to expand the runway: The plan that had been laid out in the past would have required uprooting some of the graves at the local graveyard.
But, in working with airport administration and some other consultants that have been studying the problem, there is actually a workaround to building the runway out to where it does not interfere with the cemetery.
MT: You mentioned empowerment and harnessing the power of the mayoral office. What’s your philosophy regarding the sharing of power between the executive branch and the Detroit City Council?
Howze: There are two things missing from what we’ve seen in recent years with the current administration and council: One, a lack of respect and trust. When you don’t respect those who you’re asking to vote on measures that you present, when you don’t show—demonstrate—that respect by timely information, where they have an opportunity to examine and then put forth a vote, that presents a problem. And when you don’t trust the administration, that’s a problem.
In many of the areas where we saw conflict it had to do with … the budget. How much are we going to cut? Who’s going to cut worse or cut more? So that’s where the conflict pretty much took place.
MT: What are a few of the skills you bring to the position that you believe will make you an effective executive?
Howze:Being an auditor, a certified public accountant, means I’ve got the executive experience working with CEOs, CFOs, treasurers, and everyone at the top level of boards of directors, all the way down to the person who worked in the mailroom.
… I think that’s it’s very important you have relationships and you have the ability to work with all levels of management, because it’s what helps that organization to tick …
Right out of [college], when I joined Arthur Andersen, which is no longer around —unfortunately — the city of Detroit was actually one of my clients. I was responsible for performing an audit on its grants program, one of their federal grant programs, and when you think about it, the city has sent back millions on top of millions of dollars in federal grants that we have not used. That is unconscionable.
Howze:Yes. So what I propose is that we have a centralized grants management office, where [we] would have grant writers who are responsible for searching out, researching grants that we qualify for and actually submitting the paperwork to apply.
The second is that, once we are rewarded those grants, that we have a compliance team in place making sure we’re making all of the requirements and spending the money for its intended purpose — and not sending any back.
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