Dennis Archer: Supporting Detroit benefits entire state

Dennis Archer was mayor of Detroit from 1994-2001 and former president of the National League of Cities. He is now chairman emeritus of the Dickinson Wright law firm in Detroit. Archer spoke with Bridge about why the state should offer Detroit funds to help pull the city through bankruptcy. The interview has been condensed.

Bridge: Why should the economic health of Detroit matter to someone who lives hundreds of miles from Detroit and seldom visits Southeast Michigan?

Archer: It is in everyone’s best interest for the city of Detroit to be supported, whether morally, verbally or monetarily, to allow the city to come back, (because) the reality is, how the city of Detroit is viewed has a major impact on the state.

You’ve mentioned helping Detroit recover and the Pure Michigan ad campaign in the same breath. It sounds as if you feel helping Detroit’s recovery is an investment not only in Detroit but in the image of Michigan.

I learned as mayor that the image of the state, in large measure, was generated by the one city that many people outside of Michigan knew, and that was Detroit. So any time there was a negative story about Detroit, it reflected on the state. We had Devil’s Night, loss of jobs, a fairly high crime rate, it was not a pretty picture. The convention bureau in Traverse City picked up grief from people saying they would like to visit Traverse City, but didn't want to travel through Detroit.

Do you feel race plays a role in how state residents feel about Detroit?

Archer: This isn’t about ethnicity. It’s an issue about a city that continues to provide value and will provide more value in the future. And whatever mistakes were made in the past will not be repeated.

Do you feel the Legislature is more hostile toward Detroit than when you were mayor?

There was an excellent working relationship between Mayor Coleman Young and former Gov. (William) Milliken. During the time they were both in office, there was a lot of professional and political collegiality. And because members of the Legislature were in office for such a long time, there was legislative history. Term limits regrettably caused a loss of institutional history at a time when the city of Detroit found itself in need of support.

I’ve heard legislators say, in effect, “Detroit got itself in this mess, why should my constituents bail them out?” Our Detroit Journalism Cooperative poll reveals a lot of Michigan residents blame corruption and mismanagement for Detroit’s financial problems. Was there something else at work?

There was a deal made between the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan – the city would receive the same amount of revenue sharing each year in exchange for the city reducing its income tax. (But) the state reduced our revenue sharing. Because of that, the city lost about $220 million in revenue sharing and another $450-500 million in lost tax revenue because we’d reduced our taxes. Then the mortgage debacle took down property values. It was a perfect storm.

Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) is not a fan of Gov. Snyder’s plan to offer money to Detroit. He said, “I’m going to stand with my district, which believes that if we start with a bailout of Detroit, there will be other cities right behind them with their hand out.”

The bankruptcy has a negative impact when other cities or businesses go to the bond market, so Michigan has an interest in helping Detroit. A healthy Detroit helps the municipalities that these legislators are elected to support.

The business community has been very favorable in wanting to help the city of Detroit. In the main, a high percentage of people who are business leaders are members of the Republican Party. If I were a legislator, I’d be guided by the fact that the people who help me stay in office are favorable to helping Detroit. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Our poll shows residents may have a negative impression of Detroit, but that’s not stopping them from believing the state should help the city. Does that support surprise you?

That doesn’t surprise me. No one is happy when you’ve got a problem and it’s in the newspapers. It wasn’t helped at all by (former) Mayor (Kwame) Kilpatrick. When you live in a state where that’s occurring, even if you live in Traverse City, you feel bad about it. But the reality is Detroit has a major impact on the state. There are a lot of things that are beginning to happen in the city of Detroit. I will tell you that the city of Detroit is poised, once (the bankruptcy) is completed, the city of Detroit will come back very quickly.

It’s no fun being where we are now. The people who have expressed disillusionment and want change, they’ll see change, and when they do, everyone will see a benefit, including those who live outside the city.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 05/13/2014 - 8:40am
"Archer: It is in everyone’s best interest for the city of Detroit to be supported, whether morally, verbally or monetarily, to allow the city to come back, (because) the reality is, how the city of Detroit is viewed has a major impact on the state." IT IS IN EVERYONE'S BEST INTEREST FOR THE CITY OF DETROIT TO SPEND THE TAXPAYERS $$$ PROPERLY!! HOW THE CITY IS VIEWED IS THE DIRECT RESULT OF IT'S OWN MIS- MANAGEMENT!
Tue, 05/13/2014 - 12:56pm
Regarding the State's revenue sharing renege, how about in exchange for any future money from the Michigan taxpayers, Detroit should be allowed to raise its taxes as high as they want and if that's not enough raise them some more and more, Lansing should but out! This should be a great deal for MI taxpayers and a fabulous experiment all rolled into one.
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 8:20am
And why is it so important for the City of Detroit to be saved so that the State can be looked upon more favorably? What about all the years that Detroit's image tarnished our great State's image. High murder rates, corruption, misuse of power and bankruptcy have made our State the laughing stock of the country! Having lived in Detroit of nearly twenty years I saw is fall from grace and its demise. I have no sympathy for Detroit at all!