The MT interview with Benny Napoleon
Published: July 24, 2013
Napoleon:I’m a lawyer, I’ve been a college professor, I’ve managed 5,000 people and a $400 million budget. Those are the skills that we need.
MT:What are some weaknesses that you have that you would have to overcome?
Napoleon:I can’t think of any. You’d have to give me some time.
MT:OK. Well, maybe we can come back to that, if you think about it while we’re talking. I mean, at every job interview I’ve ever had, “they say no one’s perfect, everybody has some weaknesses.” But maybe this is an exception.
Napoleon:I’m not in a job interview; I’m in an interview with you for the Metro Times.
MT:Right, but we kind of treat it, you know—
Napoleon:I’m not interviewing for a job with Metro Times.
MT:OK. Do you think the current emergency manager law is constitutional?
MT:And why do you think it’s not constitutional?
Napoleon:Because the essence of a democracy is the ability to elect the people who represent you. … He’s not elected by me, and his decisions do not have to be affirmed by me. He has absolutely no allegiance to me as a taxpayer.
MT:So given the fact that you think that current law is unconstitutional, what do you think the role of the new mayor should be?
Napoleon:Well first of all, that’s already in process. There’s a federal case pending on the legitimacy of the emergency manager. The federal court will determine whether this person is there legally or not — not me, not anybody else. … If the federal court determines that Mr. Orr is here legally, then obviously he has to go about taking care of the city’s finances the way he determines that is in best interest, in his opinion, for the people of the city of Detroit. If that’s determined to be true and legitimate, then the role of the mayor, I think, is to do what the mayor does — manage the affairs of city government within the financial structure that Kevyn Orr creates, if he’s determined to be here legally.
MT:What will be your administration’s top three priorities if you get the job?
Napoleon:Public safety, blight and assisting the business community in creating jobs.
MT:And how long do you think people should expect before they see results in those priorities?
Napoleon:They should start seeing results immediately. That’s why you have a transition phase. So I think that immediately you should start seeing some improvement.
MT:Since this is your greatest area of expertise, what specifically would you do to address the crime problem that’s not being done now?
Napoleon:Well, the only proven way to reduce crime in a community that is challenged is that you have to have community policing, crime prevention, problem-oriented policing, directed enforcement, and a data-driven approach to crime. Those are all terms of ours. … We’re going to put a police officer in every single residential square mile of the city of Detroit. That also will be responsible for doing the community policing and crime prevention aspect of it — the directed enforcement, problem-oriented policing and the directed enforcement, data-driven approach to resolving crime. Inside that square mile, that officer will be there every single day, taking care of those little things that impact the quality of life for citizens in the neighborhood. If you have an abandoned car — right now abandoned cars sit on the streets sometimes for months or years — this officer will get that out of there within a timely fashion. You have businesses that are in our community that are rife with graffiti and trash and uncut grass, and the folks there, this officer will be responsible for making sure that they’re going to be good business neighbors. They’re going to work with every clergy member, every neighborhood group, every businessperson, every school, to make sure that the quality of life [is improved], not in this whole big city of Detroit, but just within that square mile. You’re going to improve the quality of life almost immediately for the people in this community, and that is what will stop people from leaving and will attract people to come back.
MT: Do you have any plans specifically in regard to, at least from the numbers I see, that Detroit overall continues to lose population. Do you have any plans to help stop that loss?
Napoleon: I think that the reason that we have lost population, if you talk to folks — and I have plenty of people that are close to me and people that I know have been Detroiters for many, many years who have decided to move out. If we did an exit interview of people who left, I think overwhelmingly they would tell you that they left for three reasons: a) crime, b) the schools, c) taxes and insurance, and quality of city services overall. So it would seem to me that if you’re trying to stop people from leaving, you should address the three issues that are causing them to leave. So until you affirm the city of Detroit as a safe city, I think you will continue to see people live. Until you take care of the school system and start educating our children in the way that people believe acceptable, people will continue to leave, and until such time as we deal with the high insurance cost that we have as Detroiters in both home and auto in particular, you will see people continue to look at options other than the city of Detroit. So you’ve got to take care of the reasons people are leaving. If you ran any kind of business and you were losing customers, you’d focus on the reason that your customers are leaving.
CG: …How would you manage, because I remember under Mayor Archer, a lot of attention was focused on downtown areas in terms of revitalization; a lot was going on, and it’s worked. Things are much — there’s a lot more going on now than there was 20 years ago. How do you strike the balance, though, between — and now Midtown is on the rise — people continue to leave a lot of the neighborhoods. How do you strike a balance between those sort of different areas?
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