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Detroit's Last White City Council Member Plots a Political Future

Sheila Murphy Cockrel, a member of the Detroit City Council, has never been afraid to swim against the tide. She opposed proposals to create "Africa Town," a district exclusively for black-owned businesses in the heart of downtown. She regularly sparred with the city's former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, who resigned in 2008 amid enormous legal problems. Just last month, she drew headlines for abruptly leaving the council's chambers to protest a rushed measure, backed by Christian conservatives, to restrict alcohol sales at Detroit's strip clubs. "It was an act of democracy to walk out and not let the process be hijacked by people with a narrow interest," she said later.

But, in some ways, Cockrel is a relic of Detroit's past. She is the only white member of the city council and, when her term ends later this month, she could well be its last. Even though she is personally popular, she is leaving the council partly because she is tired of the scandals that have rocked the city lately. Her departure is a significant moment in the history of Detroit, the largest majority-black city in America. In the 1950s, when Detroit's population reached its 2 million peak, nearly 1.6 million white people lived here. In 1990, though whites were still represented in several major elected posts, they comprised only about 20% of the population. Now, whites make up barely 8% of the city's estimated 912,000 residents.

Demographer William H. Frey, of the Brookings Institute, projects that whites may account for only 5% of Detroit's population by 2020. If those trends persist, it is unlikely that Detroit will ever again elect a white person to a major city-wide post. But Cockrel, 63, may try to buck that trend. She is now studying whether she has the kind of crossover appeal to win a Congressional seat out of Detroit.

Read the full story here.

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  • 1

    She is a white woman No shit!!.. That is not a newsflash nor a reason to genuflect when she is in the room.

    She has a checkered record and would be of little value in congress given her less than great value on the city council.

    She was a selfish person always willing to trash her peers and run away from anything that made her look incompetent.

    Some of her public statements were very divisive and reflected her patronizing demeanor towards many people in the city.

    She lived off the legacy of her husband and that is not enough at end of the day..

  • 2

    Perhaps she is not the last elected white person. Maryann Mahaffey was elected by black voters. And if council districts are established, voters will elect those who will work for their part of town regardless of race, creed, or color. In addition, current demogrphics are not necessarily a permanent condition. Things change.

    • 2.1

      I have a bit of a hope that she goes up against Cheeks-Kilpatrick if Mama K runs again (though I admit I don't know where Cockrel lives - is she in the right district?).

  • 3

    Who really cares that she is white, I know I don't, big deal so she is white.... I want competent, committed people in charge what ever color they may be. There really is just too much emphasis about the color of ones skin in these blogs when it comes to anything that has to do with Detroit.

    Can we get something a little brighter to read, not just this hashed up drivel that has been posted as of late.

    I really expected to see some better writing out of the Time bloggers, Do you get out of that house your in downtown?

    Blog about a restaurant that you ate at, or an event that you have gone to. Something with a little more tooth to it for Pete's sake.

    Sprinkle a little bit of happiness about the city here and there. If you can;t find anything else to do then get in your cars and drive to some place exciting.

  • 4

    The city of Detroit will not begin to turn around until the city leaders actively make the city hospitible for all races and ethnic groups. After seeing the movie "Invictus" I wished that Coleman Young had taken the route of Nelson Mandela than the policies that he did take, Detroit might have remained a great city. As long as the city leaders and residents continue to insist that Detroit remain a black majority and controled city it will continue to lose population and operating funds. Even if all the black residents in the Detroit metropolitan area move into the city it will still be too under populated to be viable and movement by the remaining middle class is still out of the city for the suburbs.

    Born and raised in the city, a Mackenzie High & Wayne State graduate, one who happens to be white and gay, my personal experiences have been of black racism not white racism. My father, a long time city employee, was informed once Colman Young took office, that he would never be promoted to a supervisor position because he was white.and he never was for the remaining 25 years of employment, even though well qualified.

    Demographicaly, vast numbers of non blacks must move into the city for it to return to the economically powerful city it once was. There is space for at least 2 million residents and only some 750,000 live there. Until the city leaders recognize this basic fact the city will continue on the path it has been on for the last few decades. The city must be welcoming to all races, to all ethnic groups, and be actively willing to share power before fundamental change can truly take place.

    There was a reason Detroit was the last stop on the underground railway, actively helping fleeing slaves over the river into Canada. It is a complete misreading of the history of Detroit and southern Michigan to define it as long term racist. It was determindly non racist. It was the vast migration of rural whites and blacks that brougt their racism with them in the 20th century and it is the decendants of those that must put aside their racism, both white and black.

    I found this article immensley saddening. It just reinforces the past attitudes that only blacks and those with black bonifides can ever become elected leaders of the city of Detroit, which shuts out those of other racial and ethnic groups. That there is no future in the city unless one is black.

  • 5

    [...] Detroit's Last White City Council Member Plots a Political Future … [...]

  • 6

    [...] since we all love political drama, I want all my fellow Detroit Lions football fans to check out detroit.blogs.time and tell me what you think about[...]

  • 7

    [...] the city’s politics. In the 1950s, 75 percent of Detroiters were white. Whites are now roughly 8 percent of the [...]

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