"Get My Loot"
When I first heard about the hotly contested Proposal D — a ballot initiative that, if passed, would permit Detroiters to elect the majority of its City Council by district rather than to at-large seats — I had doubts. We can all imagine boogeymen behind any number of political ideas, and when it came to Prop. D, I had visions of newly minted ward bosses running amok. In a city where name recognition alone has won votes for the likes of disgraced ex-council president Monica Conyers and current councilwoman/R&B barnstormer Martha Reeves, it's not hard to imagine Detroit council districts being turned into a ward heeler's ball.
But then a few other things occurred to me. First, because all members are currently elected to "at-large" seats, the Detroit City Council, in the guise of being accountable to everybody, is too often accountable to nobody. Consider, for instance, the brazen criminality of Conyers, who once ordered a bagman to "get my loot" from a shakedown target. (And then try not to think about the council crimes that haven't been exposed.) And that's not to say there aren't engaged, caring council members. There are. But not nearly enough.
Second, the "at-large" system makes it too easy to exclude some vital segments of our community from council seats. For instance, while I'm damned proud of Detroit's standing as a bastion of real black political power, I'm also disturbed that a city run by historically disenfranchised folks often marginalizes other historically disenfranchised folks. I mean, Latinos run southwest Detroit, but too often have to struggle for proportionate influence at City Hall.
Third, I'd like to hope that the power to elect council members directly from the neighborhoods will help ignite many Detroiters' passion for the political process, especially young voters. Those involved in local politics are some of the most zealous, energetic and hopeful voices in town. They are citizens in full. But they are still outnumbered by the voters whose political laziness affords carte blanche to the scoundrels and fools.
Mostly, though, I like the idea of Prop. D passing because I just think real democracy is largely the politics of voters getting what and whom they vote for -- and, therefore, what and whom they deserve.
Of course, whether the council members come from districts or fill at-large posts, the key to making any of this work is that all voting Detroiters pay attention to the people tasked with doing their business. A city strapped with a $300-million deficit deserves a surplus of accountable leadership.
It's past time Detroiters were able to turn to the people they've elected and say, simply, "Get my loot."