The Sisyphus of Jefferson Avenue
The MT interview with Tom Barrow
Published: July 24, 2013
This is Tom Barrow’s fourth attempt to become mayor of Detroit. A CPA who co-founded his own firm after working for Arthur Andersen, Barrow ran against incumbent Coleman A. Young twice in the 1980s and faced off against Dave Bing in 2009.
Metro Times:We get the sense you haven’t stopped campaigning since the last election.
Tom Barrow:First, persistence is a virtue; it’s not a vice. In 2009, after I had lost, I had actually accepted it and told the media that I’ve accepted it, that I’ve done the best that I could. If I couldn’t win under these circumstances, then I couldn’t and I accepted it. But I ended that conversation by saying I’m just going to recount a few of the cases [ballot boxes] just to make sure, because the results were different than what we thought would’ve happened.
To make the long story short, the seals on the cases had been changed, and even when they did open up cases, the number of ballots and so on didn’t match. And then when we caught them trying to cover it up by making phony lists and the like, I became convinced that there’s corruption. And it’s been going on for a long while.
I believe that the public is ready, they’re crying out for change. They want leadership, and we’re desperate for it, and that’s what’s impacting our spirit, because we don’t have it. We can no longer do that name recognition thing. That puts us in the toilet, and we see now if we do that again with the big name who has a demonstrated record of incompetence in terms of fiscal management, we’re going to be right back to where we were, the same players will be back in place, and nothing will change. And people will say, well you’ve been around, you tried and you didn’t win. Well, I don’t think we lost in 2000 — I think I am the change, and I think that’s why folks that are doing what they did — hacking the computer and then trying to cover it up — know that Tom Barrow knows the players. I know who all the people are who were scratching, trying to get back in their old position, all the business folks who are benefiting.
MT:So what is it that is driving you so hard to make you want to be mayor?
Barrow:Because I think the issues confronting the city are right in my wheelhouse. I saw it coming a decade ago, or more. … Our leadership didn’t understand that you gotta deal with these issues. We have incompetent management. We don’t have a financial adult. And as we’ve gone by every year, it would get bigger and bigger to now these overruns in the departments are causing massive issues, making it appear as if we are in a state of chaos. I read the financials, I read the projections, I read the forecasts. I understand that stuff. It’s in my wheelhouse.
MT: Former auditor general Joe Harris was predicting many of these problems a decade ago.
Barrow: You could see it. I could see it more than 10 years ago, and that’s why when we put these leaderships based on your name, they don’t have the competence. A lawyer, a police officer, we’re going to be right back to where we are. It’s not your wheelhouse. If I want to know how to do something in a square mile crime or something, maybe I’ll talk to ya. But now I see such lawlessness, such disregard for fundamental financial rules, the city’s not business, but it has attributes of a business.
MT:Do you think that the current emergency manager law is legal?
Barrow:It’s clearly unconstitutional, it’s clearly illegal. I think it shows a disregard for the will of the public. I think that it is the exercise of a very conservative agenda set forth by the Mackinac Center, the American Legislative Exchange Council. There’s no financial emergency here. Long-term debt can never a create short-term emergency — it just can’t. That’s fundamental Finance 101.
The problem, again, is that the people who are in control are out of their wheelhouse, and so they don’t understand that. That’s why we never ran out of cash — I told people that seven, eight, nine, 10 months ago; last August, so a year ago — that we’re not going to run out of cash. This is all false and a phony ruse and I said as much to the state treasurer when I met with him along with the Honorable JoAnn Watson.
MT:What do you see the role of the mayor being in relation to the emergency manager if you get elected?
Barrow:I think the big question to me is what does he see his role with me. I’m the mayor, I have a city council. We still have the ability to legislate; we still have the ability to pass laws.
MT:What do you think your weaknesses as mayor would be?
Barrow:You know, I think my biggest weakness, if I call it a weakness, is that I get disturbed when people don’t do the detail. I can get along with a person who makes mistakes and is incompetent as long as I know I can trust that person and that person’s loyal. I get disturbed when that loyal person comes to me with answers that are off the top of their head and they haven’t looked into the underlying facts and they represent it to me as if it is fact, and then I act in reliance. … I get impatient with it. Not in a negative way where I strike out, but in a way that I can no longer rely on you.
MT:It is frequently pointed you that you were once convicted of tax evasion and served time.
Barrow:And I’m comfortable with that. … For 19 years I fought them. I resisted, I bucked. I told them, “You’re wrong, and you know you’re wrong. You calculated it wrong and you calculated it wrong deliberately. You deliberately held records from me that I couldn’t get that you knew would’ve proven otherwise.” It’s a game to them. They’re playing with somebody’s life and it’s a game. It was wrongful. Nineteen years I fought. I know I’ve been wronged, and I know I’m not alone. It’s happening all the time. …
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