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Kilpatrick asserts progress

In his election-year State of the City speech
Detroit mayor urges faith, warns of cuts.


  

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

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Robin Buckson / The Detroit News

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's address at Detroit's Orchestra Hall sought to build confidence in his administration.

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Robin Buckson / The Detroit News

Detroit utility workers Timothy Allen, left, and Lohte Ellington protest at Orchestra Hall. The mayor's speech targeted the city's employee unions.

 

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Robin Buckson / The Detroit News

Detroit Mayoral candidate Freman Hendrix holds a town hall meeting at the Century Club in the Gem Theatre. This is an election year.

 

DETROIT -- Battling the perception that Detroit's condition is worsening, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on Tuesday offered a lengthy list of accomplishments intended to build confidence in his administration in an election year.

Kilpatrick admitted that "at times I have been an imperfect servant," but asked residents to focus on the progress made by his administration and not solely on him.

"It is important to this city's future that you have confidence in your mayor in these difficult times," the mayor said in his fourth State of the City address. "I am determined to serve you in a manner that earns confidence."

Without offering details, he also said:

City employees must begin discussions with the administration immediately on reducing health care costs to help get rid of budget deficits likely to approach $400 million this year and next.

The budget he will present April 12 for the 2005-06 fiscal year "will be one of the toughest budgets ever presented to council. It will cut spending, it will eliminate programs and it will reform government in ways we have never seen before."

Kilpatrick issued a sober reminder of the city's mounting fiscal problems but tried to focus on the achievements of his administration -- from the strongest housing construction revival in 50 years to bringing crime to 40-year lows to ushering in high-profile national conventions and sporting events.

His most dire warning went to the city's employee unions, which have rejected 10 percent pay cuts. Kilpatrick said rising health care costs will "cripple" the city unless steps are taken immediately to bring them under control. He likened the city's personnel costs to those of the Big Three automakers, which recently launched initiatives to cut employee health care costs.

But squabbles between Kilpatrick and some members of the City Council were again evident as council members Maryann Mahaffey, Barbara-Rose Collins, JoAnn Watson and Sharon McPhail boycotted the address and said they will offer an alternative plan today.

"He doesn't lack charisma; he lacks credibility," said McPhail, a mayoral candidate.

Meanwhile, council members Alonzo Bates, Ken Cockrel Jr., Sheila Cockrel and Albert Tinsley-Talabi were introduced by Kilpatrick and sat behind him on stage.

Detroiters who attended the address in the Max M. Fisher Music Center were buoyed by the mayor's optimism, talk of cutting property taxes and honesty in discussing his miscues.

"I was impressed," said 61-tear-old Stella Calloway. "He is talking about good ideas and that Detroiters should feel good about themselves."

Dentist James Murray, 39, who six months ago bought a home in the Sherwood Forest district, said Kilpatrick's push to lower property taxes was positive, even if it means there could be tough financial decisions elsewhere in Detroit's financial plan.

"Some people will have to get bit, but it's the best thing for the entire city," lifelong Detroiter Murray said. "What I heard was very hopeful."

Kilpatrick received the biggest rounds of applause when he endorsed reducing the tax burden and talked about the city's progress. But Kurt Metzger, research director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University, said the mayor didn't go into detail about spending cuts.

The mayor conceded personal mistakes and that there are widespread doubts about the city's direction.

"If our march to a new future here in the city of Detroit seems less certain tonight, then I, as mayor of the city of Detroit, must set a clear course so that we may renew our city," he said.

Crediting changes in the Police Department led by Chief Ella Bully-Cummings, Kilpatrick said the major crime rate in Detroit last year was the lowest since 1963. Homicide, however, was up 5 percent from 2003. He said the department, which is under federal oversight, increased the number of uniformed officers, developed a "Most Violent Persons" list, and confiscated drugs with a street value of $85 million.

He urged the courts to start imposing a $500 fine for solicitation of prostitutes, a penalty which the mayor says hasn't been enforced since the city increased the fine in October from $50. He pledged to continue his party store crackdown despite concerns that such raids unfairly target Arab and Chaldean store owners.

In touting his administration's efforts to rebuild deteriorated communities, Kilpatrick highlighted key projects that will begin this year, including a development plan for 1,200 acres on the city's east side called Fox Creek and a new public housing project called the Garden View Estates at the former site of the Herman Gardens public housing project.

The mayor didn't shy from criticism that his big visions centering on four projects -- the Book Cadillac, the Michigan Central Train Depot, Cobo Hall and the city's demolition's program -- haven't been achieved.

"I'm proud that we have the vision and the team that dares to take on the challenge of breathing new life into these symbols of dilapidation in our city," Kilpatrick said.

Despite the budget deficit, Kilpatrick said the city has made quality of life improvements. Next month, he said, the city will break ground on two "family fun centers."

One, adjacent to the Lasky Recreation Center, will include 27 batting cages, a rock-climbing wall, a nine-hole flying disc golf course and an 18-hole miniature golf course. The second, at Eight Mile near Ray, will include a paintball course.

Although the Belle Isle Aquarium is closing April 3, he noted that plans are going forward to open a nature zoo in the park this fall.

Ten other city parks had major renovations the past year and 20 are slated for improvements this year. Kilpatrick also promised that the giant slide on Belle Isle will resume operation this year.

He noted that city residents faced their lowest water and sewer rate increases in the past 12 years this year, and that department director Victor Mercado is modernizing the system to keep costs low.

Kilpatrick credited Chief Financial Officer Sean Werdlow for helping guide the city through tough financial times. Since 2001, non-public safety overtime has dropped 43 percent and 3,000 city jobs have been cut.

He said he also hopes for action on earlier proposals to cut the city's high property tax bills for homeowners. He is pushing for action in the state Legislature on the proposed Neighborhood Enterprise Zone law, which would reduce the tax sting of buying a new house in Detroit by easing some of the stringent requirements of Proposal A.

You can reach Judy Lin at (313) 222-2072 or jlin@detnews.com.