Michigan Citizen and Kevyn Orr: Which history will be ultimately be written?

Michigan Citizen and Kevyn Orr: Which history will be ultimately be written?

The Michigan Citizen, one of Detroit’s African-American newspapers, has often had a lonely voice in its sustained criticism of the state’s emergency manager law and Kevyn Orr’s actions authorized by it. In the paper’s most provocative coverage of Orr’s first 12 months, the weekly publication reports on its staff sit-down interview with Orr, who visited the Citizen’s offices last week.

The Citizen posed and Orr answered an array of questions, including some in ways the mainstream media haven’t or, frankly, wouldn’t: “Do you see yourself intervening in evictions or any of the suffering?” and “Some people can hear (your policies) as wanting a whiter, wealthier city. What do you think about that criticism?”

Like it or not, those are the uncomfortable questions some Detroit residents and sympathetic observers have as they view the daily poverty, unemployment and disenfranchisement in most of the city. While downtown enjoys unprecedented investment and white hipsters are lauded in the local and national media, for example, where are the solutions for the unemployed, undereducated and poverty-stricken?, they ask. The Citizen is a voice that can steer the collective conversation about Detroit to include policy perspectives and proposals rooted social justice. In the paper’s ongoing coverage and now timely conversation with Orr, the Citizen hopes, in part, to broaden the framework by which the legacy of Michigan’s emergency manager system will be evaluated.

To his credit, Orr, who has lived in the Miami and Washington D.C. areas, spoke to the Citizen of his ideal vision of Detroit: a widely diverse, safe urban area with balanced books and manageable debt. It’s his job as emergency manager, he says, to focus on the balance sheet and steer the city through a bankruptcy toward a sustainable, healthy financial future. In doing so, he’s proposing up to 80 percent cuts to banks and lenders to free up money for city services. The financial institutions predictably don’t like it:

“They’re going to try to defeat this plan because their view is they’d rather take that money. And I’ve tried to restore it,” Orr says.

The Citizen’s Shea Howell, drawing a vastly different conclusion, says this:

This capacity, to think in a logic that excludes the consequences of your decisions on the lives of others, characterizes much of what we saw in Mr. Orr. This was most evident when he talked of pension cuts. Here he stressed, ‘There are only 20,000 pensioners in a city of 700,000.’ This is just a few people. A sacrifice for the many.

This kind of numbers game is chilling.

History will determine what the state law and Orr’s tenure will ultimately mean to the city … and if the Michigan Citizen was among the first to realize the consequences.

-By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda

@WDETSandra and nextchapter@wdet.org

The Michigan Citizen, as part of New Michigan Media, is a member of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative along with WDET.