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A night out with Detroit’s boys of bankruptcy

Ghost Bar

I was wondering the other day what it must feel like to be Kevyn Orr, master of all you survey, but with a target on your back from people you don’t even know.  Or Judge Steven Rhodes who was assigned the dicey task of overseeing Orr’s work.

Or imagine how you’d feel if you were Judge Gerald Rosen who has the pressure of playing Solomon over so many decisions that carry so much weight with so many people and corporations and no matter what he does he’s going to satisfy just a few and probably infuriate a whole lot more.

220px-Mike_Duggan_2013I wonder how Mike Duggan feels when he walks into his office in City Hall not knowing from day to day who’s bobblehead might be stolen and what’s going to happen in “his” city whose fate is largely being driven by Orr and the judges.

And how about that “tough nerd” up in Lansing who had the courage to declare Detroit bankrupt in the first place, then proposed the $350 million that’s needed for the “Grand Bargain” to help save the city.  He now has to sell that proposal to a state house and senate equally divided by those who are there to fight for Detroit and those who would just as soon see the city go down the drain.

Talk about a motley crew of guys thrown together to solve what will likely one day be Harvard’s toughest business school test case.  What happens when they all get together?

Picture some quiet dark rainy night in Midtown Detroit.  A big black Suburban pulls up to The Whitney (Snyder), followed by a camouflaged Chevy Cruze (Orr), a serious looking silver Hummer (Rhodes),  a Jeep flying a Tigers banner (Rosen), and finally a SEMTA bus running 29 minutes late (Duggan).  (The late bus must be especially frustrating to the guy who invented the ‘never more than 29 minute’ waiting room at DMC!)

The first four sit in their cars listening to advice guru Dr. Laura on their satellite radios while waiting for that bus to roll up.  When it does, in they go, single file, and after grabbing a cold one at the bar they repair to a corner table in the back of the Ghostbar.  Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” is playing softly in the background, two guys are arguing sports at the bar, two other guys are arguing over a woman who just headed out the door, and three Wayne State professors are debating the merits of fracking.

After a quick, refreshing drink and some cordial pleasantries, the real discussion in the Ghostbar begins. Wait a minute…some cordial pleasantries?  In the midst of the hurricane that is Detroit’s bankruptcy there are actually cordial pleasantries?   That’s what seems to have finally changed in Detroit politics.  Despite their differences, and what may even seem their cross purposes at times, for the first time in a long while in Detroit, people are actually talking to each other.  Even the City Council.  The right people with the power to actually make things happen in the city are talking and working together.

Kevyn-Orr_2510235kOrr is making impossibly difficult recommendations and throwing them out there like raw meat for everybody to attack.  Rhodes is watching Orr’s every move and Rosen is chewing on each of his recommendations and persuading angry and distrustful financial institutions to do the same…then tighten their belts and recognize that 10-cents on a dollar makes more sense than no cents on a dollar.  Meanwhile, Duggan has his hands free to actually manage the city – to get the buses running, the ambulances and fire trucks and police and firemen working, the derelict and abandoned houses sold or eliminated, and the garbage picked up and maybe privatized.  And Snyder is figuring ways to negotiate with his House and Senate colleagues to get West Michigan to look more fondly on Southeast Michigan so that all of Michigan can succeed together.

How long has it been since we’ve seen this kind of attempted cooperation within the city and the state?  There are still hurdles to overcome, big hurdles, but people are working together to overcome them.   The Grand Bargain hasn’t crossed the goal line, and that’s understandable – Why SHOULD Ishpeming have to pay Detroit’s debts…..other than the reality that a successful Michigan NEEDS a successful Detroit?

theSo the gathering continues at The Whitney, the ideas flow, the whispered voices rise and fall as arguments and discussions ensue and resolutions hopefully emerge.  This must be what it’s like when cooperation happens in local government.  It’s just been so long since we’ve seen it around here that it’s hard to recognize.

As the rain turns to a spring-like drizzle and spring smells infiltrate the air, the moon starts its downward trek and the group makes its way back to their cars.  They shake hands and smile at the quiet progress they’ve made.  Newspapers and newscasts in the morning report on the “acrimonious” secret meeting and unions and pensioners shake their fingers at the lack of progress made.  ‘Why is it only OUR ox that’s being gored?’  It must be frustrating for the bankruptcy boys.

As a citizen of Detroit, try to remember Judge Rosen’s comments around the time of his appointment:  “My objective is to bring the parties together in a neutral forum, away from the glare of the spotlight to discuss…and resolve as many of these disputes as possible…”

Based on the results to date, that appears to be what’s happening.  Oh happy day!

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