tate Sen. Coleman Young II has taken on a variety of issues he's passionate about — from insurance redlining to affordable housing and even community policing. Young believes that be can lead Detroit better than current Mayor Mike Duggan. Read the full-length BLAC interview below.
Your opponent wants a chance to finishing what he started. In some opinions Detroit seems to be moving in the right direction. How do you intend to move the city forward?
Well, the first thing I want to do to move the city is forward is, I want to put people back to work. That’s the first thing I want to do. You had 48 percent living in poverty; 47 percent qualify for food stamps; you have one out of six houses that don’t have water in the city of Detroit right now. So the first thing I want to do is put people back to work with community benefits agreements…making sure that they are legally binding agreements between developers and the community. There isn’t a job in the city that is happening where Detroiters should not have access – (the) opportunity – to get them first. I also want to make sure that we have community development corporations, so we basically have more developments within the neighborhoods.
I also think we should start more small businesses….particularly by making sure we have one-stop permit stops so we can cut out a lot of the red tape it takes to start a small business. (And) also working with our partners in the Federal government to make sure we are more adherent to the Community Investment Act – making sure that these banks actually give loans to Detroiters, I think that’s something that’s critical. Also, in terms of making sure we invest more in the neighborhoods, less Downtown. Take all the money that we have…..whether it be the home funds, be able to build affordable housing for people. And when we build houses from HUD funds make sure that we stay adherent to Section 3, which basically says that any money you’re going to use from HUD has to be used when you’re building houses…that Detroiters are the ones that are building the houses, so we can put our people back to work.
I just rode the bus today and when you’re going down Fenkell, man, it was like a mini-roller coaster, the amount of bumps, and the amount of things that you’re going over. The bus driver is talking about how her back is hurting from these bumps. We need to fix our roads. We need to fix our infrastructure. We need to tear down these abandoned buildings. We also need to make sure that the people in the neighborhoods have access to these properties right now because you’ve got a lot of properties bought up from people who either don’t live in the city, who don’t live in the state, who aren’t even in the country! That’s what I want to do – I want to return back to a city for the neighborhoods and for the people out there that are struggling.
I want to raise the minimum wage to $15 so that people can be able to feed themselves and their families. You’ve got folks that are working two, three jobs can’t make ends meet. We live in the city right now: 48 percent of the people are living in poverty; 50 percent of our children; 20 percent of seniors. I just think that’s outrageous.
I want to do what New York does. They also have a city-earned income tax credit. I think that’s something we need to do. We also need to have an office of opportunity to basically coordinate poverty programs for people as well. And also have conditional cash transfers in certain instances if the budget will allow it. I think that’s something that’s critical in order to alleviate poverty. And also work not only with Detroit employment solutions corporation(s), but also the nonprofit entity to make sure we have a strong transitional jobs program. Making sure that people, even on temporary jobs, they can get that on-the-job-training that they need to pursue a career, right now, that’s a major issue that we have. And I also think we need to do a better job of reaching out to the people, to let them know these opportunities are here, and also making sure that when they’re applying for these jobs, they apply for these jobs in Detroit.
I heard one time they were doing something for the Stadium but they were hiring people, but they had to hire people out in Southfield for a stadium in Detroit. When you talk about the stadium only 33 percent of people (Detroiters) got jobs from that! And they’re using taxpayer money to fund it – 33 percent Detroit is 80 percent black, but black folks in Detroit only hold 33 percent of jobs. That’s a special kind of oppression right there. (If this were) another country it’s (called) apartheid. It’s wrong and it’s shameful. We’ve got billions of dollars floating to Downtown – we ain’t got no recreational centers, our kids ain’t got nowhere to play, it’s absurd, and that’s why I’m running for mayor.
The “Two Detroits” conversation has become something of a campaign theme for you. Why has this struck such a cord with you?
Mike Duggan doesn’t think it’s real. I think it strikes a cord with me because (of) how palatable it is. Almost half of the city lives in poverty and more than half live in areas that are impoverished. Anybody that has eyes that goes into these neighborhoods can see. Ray Charles can see that we’ve got two Detroits right now; the fact that auto insurance is the highest in the City of Detroit than anywhere else in the country. That we’ve been dealing with redlining – racist redlining – for over 30-something years. We need to sue the auto insurance companies. People make fun of me when I say that, but everybody knows that the courts have been the last bastion of civil rights injustice for black people. Everybody knows that. We cannot continue to keep taking this laying down. And Lansing is not going to do what they’re supposed to do for the people.
When I was a state rep, I passed legislation dealing with reformed auto insurance. I had to fight folks on the other side of the party and folks on my own side who had special relationships with the insurance companies – and it barely passed on my side. Then, it went over to the Republican side and it completely stalled because they were bought out by the insurance lobby. Now, my opponent is talking about he’ll guarantee a 30 percent reduction. That’s great, but where was this beforehand? When I tried to talk to him about a guaranteed reduction beforehand, he said he wasn’t interested. He put forth D-Insurance, which is a rate reduction plan with no rate reductions in it. So, what now? We gonna have Kool-Aid with no sugar? You gonna drive a car with no steering wheel? This is madness. It’s just sheer madness because there’s a lack of priorities. If you’re going to take people’s pensions away. If you’re going to take their healthcare away. If you’re going to lay folks off, the least you could have did during the grand (bargaining) during all that time, was say ‘I’m not going to do anything till you lower auto insurance in the city, I’m not going to do anything until we have police on the street in this district. I’m not going to do anything till the state pays back the money that they took from the city first.’ We did more to protect art on the wall than we did to protect human beings that live in the city. It’s shameful. And this is just a lack of priorities – that’s all it really is.
One of your campaign topics is eliminating “redlining based on race and income.” As mayor, you won’t have the power to change insurance rates. How would you work around this?
As mayor, you can advocate for reform. You can use your voice for reform within Lansing. I think what I can do as mayor, I can bring a lot of people – a lot of coalitions – together to support this. First of all, I want to make sure that we change the definition of what excessive rates are. In No Fault’s 44-year history, a rate has never been deemed too excessive. So I want to change the definition. Right now, the definition is, if competition exists. I want to go back to what the Federal government standard is. which is two percent or less of your income. Instead of it being file-and-use it should be prior approval. I think we need to stop basing race on your socio economic background. If you are an investment banker, you pay less in auto insurance than if you’re a factory worker. They say $265 less. We need to stop that. I want to ban using rates based on your occupation, based on your sex. We need to have a mandatory rate rollback (at least 65 percent). I think auto insurance on average isn’t $3,000 a year, it’s $5,000. I also think that insurance companies, since everybody’s paying for it, if they’re going to raise rates they should have a public hearing.
We also need to ban using rates based on your credit. You’ve got folks in the suburbs that got two, three DUIs, and they’re still paying a thousand, two thousand dollars less than a guy in Detroit with a perfect driving record. And only 19 percent of people in the City of Detroit according to the Urban Institute have good credit. So who’s going to qualify for these discounts? And if you’re group insurance they can use your credit to actually determine what your rate is. And we need to stop basing rates on your territory where you garage your call or live at. If Lansing’s not going to do any of that, then I’m going to partner up and use my influence within the United States Conference of Mayors to be able to file a national lawsuit involving red lining in this country. You have people who are redlined in Illinois, in Pennsylvania, in Los Angeles, you cannot keep punishing people because they’re black and because they live in poor areas. It’s wrong.
Can you highlight some of the strengths coming into a mayoral position from a senator’s perspective? What makes you uniquely qualified for that task?
Well, I’ve got a 10-year record. I passed historic legislation making sure that women receive mandatory paid leave in the public and private sectors, I passed legislation involving energy loss recovery, I passed legislation regulating the medical marijuana industry, I passed legislation creating 10,000 jobs to movie tax credits, I also passed legislation through HEAT and EAT [sic?] heating assistance and programs ($6.8 million) that make sure low income folks will be able to have heating and energy assistance. I also passed $500,000 to the Charles H. Wright Museum as well as $2 million to keep FOCUS: Hope open. I’ve also one things in the neighborhood, too. I help keep their lights on. I help people get jobs. I help them keep their homes. We even help some folks get out of jail. I think that those skills will be transferable to when I become mayor.
As many have said, a political office does not change the individual, it often reveals who they are. If elected what do you hope your time in office will reveal about Coleman Young II?
I think what my time in office will reveal about me is someone who wants to do things for the folks…someone who wants to do things for the people…the downtrodden….for the forgotten…What’s the purpose of power if you don’t serve the powerless? What’s the purpose of having a voice if it’s not for the voiceless? That’s what I want somebody to remember: a man who was a fighter for the people, part of the coalition of the willing. Willing to stand…willing to fight…willing to bleed…willing to die for the people to have more – better than.
Detroit, a predominantly black city, is seeing the effects of gentrification in some ways. Why bring up race (in this case Duggan’s) in a contest that has more to do about the vision of moving forward than racial tensions in the city?
Race is important because the City of Detroit is 80 percent black, and blacks only hold 33 percent of all the jobs in the city – that’s a special type of oppression. We live in a country where if you’re black, you’re two times more likely to be unemployed even if you got the same education of your white counterparts, you’re two times more likely to live in poverty (one out of five black folks don’t go to the hospital because of cost). If you’re a black college graduate, you have 33 percent less wealth than a white high school dropout. These are the conditions that our people are living in every day, and they need a mayor who is going to talk to these issues, not condemn anyone who ever brings up the topic of race. The only time we can talk about race is when he wants to, when he goes to Mackinac, where the only black people that work there are on the wait staff, and he want to talk about race and engage in this revisionist history of how we got here – that the reason Detroit is where it is, is because of the Federal housing policy, I’ll admit it was racist. It was also because you had black folks who were intimated with violence when they were trying to move into the city. The ground that we stand on now has been soaked with the blood, sweat, tears and toil of black revolutionaries and freedom fighters.
Detroit was the last stop before they got to the road of freedom in Canada. Because of my father, the Honorable Coleman Alexander Young, who beat back stress and the Big Four and diversified the city workforce, what was all that sacrifice for if we’re going to engage in gentrification and Negro removal? It’s wrong. It’s terrible. I don’t understand it. We have come too far for someone who don’t even want to bring up the issue of race and condemns anybody that does.
It’s outrageous what’s going on in this town. I don’t understand with all the new construction why we don’t have a job training center here? Something here. It’s not a priority because he doesn’t care, fundamentally. So we’re going to continue to talk about race. It is unique because Detroit is majority black, we’re not majority black by happenstance, people died for that – struggled for that. I come from a legacy of that. Didn’t get accepted to Michigan because of the color of his skin! We’re going to continue talking about it.
Are there any qualities that you admire most in your opponent?
Not at this time, no.
What would you do to inspire leadership on the education front?
I would want to advocate for change. I also think we should have more community schools. Make sure that we have wraparound services. Job training, tax preparation, medical homes, are right there and set up in that area so that adults and children…make sure we teach skilled trades at these schools. We either want to partner with labor or nonprofits to make sure we teach skilled trades at these schools. For whatever reason if you can’t go to college but you still want a job, want a decent living, I think that’s the best way to do that for our kids. We’re trying educate children who are living in the 21st century with a 19th century school model.
You seem to be very adamant about police officers and firemen who work in Detroit but live outside of the city. Why is this such a concern?
How are you going to have community policing if nobody live in the community? How are you going to be able to have a relationship with the police if they don’t live here? We need to have police officers and firefighters living in the city again. If you are collecting tax payer dollars from the citizens you should live in the area where you’re collecting that money from. If you’re going to be in community policing you’ve got to have people who actually have a stake in the community.
You frequently ride the public bus system to put yourself in other’s shoes and to spark important conversations on Detroit issues. What have you discovered about Detroiters, moreover, what have you discovered about yourself that you didn’t know before?
What I discovered about them is resiliency, toughness. I also discovered that people are just asking for basic services – they just want jobs. You see the buses are dirty. You have bus drivers in fear of their safety. You hear a lot of people who just want basic services and who are hurting out there. I think it’s testimony to the endurance of the human spirit and the fact that there are continuing on. We should be doing more as a city for these folks that are hurting. For some people the scariest thing they ever do is get in a car. Because they know they’re going to get pulled over, they’re going to get their license se suspended, or they’re going to go to jail…because (auto insurance) is too expensive. Am I going to pay light bill? Or am I going to pay my auto insurance? Am I going pay for my kids to have food at the table or am I going to have water in the house today?
And you’ve got a mayor who ain’t saying none of this at all. I call him Mike “Duck it,” ‘cause he’s ducking all the time. You’re at a town hall on poverty…he ducking out on poverty. The way in which black folks and poor folks are treated in this city is disgraceful. He is clueless. This man literally said that the two Detroits is fiction. How incredibly out of touch do you have to be? Have you even gone into a neighborhood? Are you even in Detroit past dark?
All they do is telling…they even have Detroit storyteller(s)….with the rain stick… and whatever the hell that is. You can’t spend $76,000 on something else? You’ve got some people out here right now who you can hire from the neighborhoods that can tell some stories. You’ve got somebody from Def Poetry Jam to write you some stories that you’re going to tell other people. Get the hell out of here, man! and 48 percent of the people are living in poverty, and you think you’re doing something.
What mistakes did your father make as mayor that you have learned from?
I’m not going to question any of the decisions that the Honorable Coleman Alexander Young made. I’m not going to question any decision at all. I think what he has taught me (is), fight for what you believe in, when you say something, mean it, look somebody in the eye, leave a situation better than when you found it, and fight for your people, and make sure you’re living to give the shirt off your back to make sure that they have more, and that your role in life is to add value to the lives of the people in which you serve. That government is not about you – it’s about using power in order to serve others, and that’s what he taught me the most. Make sure you provide jobs and opportunities for folks. My father set a record in terms of minority contractors hired. Your priorities should be the people, should be loyalty over money, not loyalty to money. Detroiters first, everything else second.
One word to describe Detroit.
Favorite Marvel (or superhero) movie.
That’s hard. There’s so many good ones. My favorite superhero by far (would) be Batman. I’m a huge Batman fan….Batman…and in (the) Marvel (universe), the Black Panther. I thought The Dark Knight Rises was really good, it didn’t get the play it was supposed to. With Bane (Batman’s antagonist in the film), he was more of his physical nemesis, whereas the Joker (in The Dark Knight) was his psychological nemesis.
Name a current Detroit hero who’s alive today.
Other than my mother…I would say, JoAnn Watson. I think all the things that she’s done throughout her career for poor people, for struggling people, for black people. I think she is totally underappreciated and underrated. All the things that she fought for, and quite frankly, just being reliable and dependable. You want somebody to fight for you…when you’re in your darkest moment and you needed someone to light that torch and lead you out of the darkness that was the person you would go to.
Read our interview with second-term candidate Mayor Mike Duggan.