Presidential candidates are completely ignorant about Detroit

o as you might have heard, there was a presidential debate last night in Detroit at the Fox Theatre, drawing hordes of supporters (half of Southeast Michigan, apparently) and protesters (the other half of Southeast Michigan, apparently) as Republican candidates offered their elevator pitches for why the should be elected to the White House.

The debate, hosted by Fox News, naturally descended into questions about Detroit (and Flint), and rightfully so. It's the moment our local media, holed up in Hockeytown Café next door, has been waiting for – except us at BLAC, since we knew answers to these questions would go left. We watched the debate comfortably at home.

Candidates from both parties have shown ignorance about basic issues, so why should we expect them to elaborate on complex issues surrounding Michigan? It's telling that during the debate, there were no questions about the state's emergency manager law – and no mention of it in response to other questions – and the sole question about Flint had one of the shortest responses of the night.

When Detroit finally came up in conversation, those in attendance and millions of viewers were promptly uninformed when some of the candidates on stage declared their knowledge on certain subjects, but were sadly incorrect. And it wasn't just the Republicans; a Democratic favorite also had a snafu yesterday. Let's clear the air.

"60 years of left-wing policies ruined Detroit…and no one is talking about it."

Aside from whatever that was on his lip, the biggest thing that stuck out to us was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's assertion that Democratic policies are responsible for Detroit. Even more baffling was Cruz saying that the media isn't doing a good job of reporting on Detroit's troubles. Um, what?


Let's address the first part of that statement. It's true that Detroit has been under Democratic rule if you look at City Hall over the last 40 years. But as we all know, Detroit's problems began well before Coleman Young took office. But let's take Democratic mayors out of the equation entirely – you still have both Republican and Democrat governors over Cruz's 60 years (one could be shady enough and mention Republican Gov. George Romney, who I hear has a son that made some interesting comments about the race recently), as well as senators, attorney generals, every single elected position in the state having representatives on both sides of the aisle.

But even then it's not about politics. What led to Detroit’s decline? A number of factors outside the political realm not mentioned last night, and apparently oblivious to Cruz: Deindustrialization and repeated crises of the automotive industry, white flight from the city to the suburbs, an undying reliance on property tax revenue in roller-coaster economic markets (Wayne County Executive Warren Evans addressed this issue just a few days ago), freeways destroying urban neighborhoods and wide income and educational gaps between Black Americans and, well, almost everyone else. (As many on social media have suggested, Cruz should probably bone up on Thomas Sugrue’s "Origins of the Urban Crisis" before the next go-round.

As for the media not covering Detroit – was he not paying attention during the 2013-14 bankruptcy, the 2009 automotive collapse, literally anything having to do with Kwame Kilpatrick, or…?

"I think the mayor controls the schools."

Generally a good guy, Ohio Gov. John Kasich stumbled a bit when Fox News host Megyn Kelly – the standout of the night, by the way – quizzed the candidates about the massive deficit in Detroit Public Schools and the horrific conditions students and teachers are subject to. When asked how he would rectify similar problems in public education, Kasich wondered if the mayor's control of the schools had anything to do with it.

There's just one problem: Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan doesn't have control of the schools.

It is true that Duggan is seeking a return of local control of the schools, as DPS is currently managed by a state-appointed emergency manager. We know what that means in Detroit, but for those outside reading it: Under the state's Public Act 436, the governor can appoint a manager to oversee any municipality's finances, whether it's a school district or an entire city (hello, Flint), to balance the books. That takes decisions out of the elected school board. When the problems are solved, the emergency manager can be removed.

These bizarre tweets from Bernie Sanders

Sanders, the wacky but loveable Democratic senator from Vermont, was not at Fox Theatre last night, but did take some time to tweet a few misleading facts about Detroit. He, too, needs to grab a copy of Sugrue's book (or maybe just, like, spend 10 minutes in a barbershop on the eastside or something). Or maybe we can just do some simple timeline math.

Sanders believes that NAFTA killed Detroit. NAFTA was ratified in 1994. Did Detroit's problems begin 22 years ago? No. They didn't even begin 49 years ago when the 1967 riots tore the city apart. Surely Sanders knows what was happening in urban cities in the late 1960s. Didn't he march with King?

But let's even go back to 1960. Ah, yes, bad trade deals – but also the height of suburban sprawl as many of our communities around Detroit began to take flight. Not to mention a little bit of white flight going on there, too. 

Do better, candidates.

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