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Detroit: The Year in Review

By Karen Hudson Samuels

Like “A Tale of Two Cities” Detroit experienced the best of times and the worst of times in 2011.

The Detroit Lions amazed fans and critics alike, ending the year with a winning season, their first since 1997. Quicken Loans moved thousands of workers to downtown offices, CEO Dan Gilbert bought up buildings in the Campus Martius area. The iconic St. Regis hotel reopened for business, and new eateries started popping along Woodward, including the Hudson Café.

A massive debt crisis gripped Detroit and yet hundreds of employees from Wayne State, the Detroit Medical Center and the Henry Ford Health System snapped up housing incentives and moved into the city’s Midtown neighborhoods.

Influenced by Midtown’s housing incentives, the Live Downtown program was launched by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, DTE Energy, Compuware, Quicken Loans and Strategic Staffing Solution. The companies plan to spend over $4 million on cash incentives for their employees to move into the city over the next five years.

Despite the influx of homeowners and housing incentives, Detroit discovered its population had dropped by 25 percent in the last decade, losing close to 250,000 residents according to U.S. Census data released in 2011.
The auto industry showed positive signs of recovery. Hiring by auto manufacturers started to resume. Chrysler reopened its Conner Avenue Assembly Plant to produce the next generation SRT Viper opening up 150 production and salaried jobs.

The “Imported from Detroit” Chrysler 200 ad that debuted during the Super Bowl created a national buzz. Everybody was talking about the commercial that featured Emmien’s “Lose Yourself” sound track and images of the Motor City ending with the rap artist staring straight into the camera, “Yea this is the Motor and this is what we do” backed by a gospel choir – The Selected of God Choir from Praise Tabernacle of Grosse Pointe.
Then, during one weekend in July, it appeared the city was heading for a record murder rate when six homicides were committed in a 48 hour period. On that fateful weekend Detroit police said the murder rate was 15% higher than it was over previous year at the same time.

The city seesawed up and down, from the best to the worst of times.

WILL DETROIT COME UNDER STATE CONTROL? -- The politics of financial governance dominated the headlines and cast a long shadow over the city. Who, what and how will the city dig itself out of debt and generate revenue to maintain city services? It’s a complex, multi-part question, with no easy solutions.
The looming threat of a state appointed Emergency Manager led Mayor Dave Bing to close ranks with city officials to oppose anyone but a Detroiter to come in and fix the city’s fiscal crisis. The Mayor’s stand rankled some, including Gov. Rick Snyder, who saw the comment as divisive.

State auditors were brought in to conduct a preliminary review of the city’s finances, a step often seen as the first stop along the way to an emergency manager.

A petition drive to overturn the emergency manager law as unconstitutional was started by Michigan Forward. They collected nearly enough signatures to get the issue on the November ballot according to organizer Brandon Jessup – the campaign will continue into 2012.

WAYNE COUNTY SCANDAL -- A severance scandal involving $200,000 paid Turkia Mullin to leave one county job and take to another as Metro Airport's CEO, opened a Pandora’s Box on Wayne County government. Residents learned of top appointees receiving a 5 to 1 match on their 401 packages; two top appointees were suspended and then resigned. The FBI was brought in to investigate, issuing subpoenas and taking box loads of papers from County’s Guardian Building offices.

OCCUPY DETROIT -- “The Protestor” is named Time Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year. Detroit saw them arrive in October and set up camp in downtown Grand Circus Park.

The protestors in Detroit, like those cities around the country, were frustrated by a mix of economic and social issues: The very rich not paying their fair share of taxes; states usurping union bargaining rights, foreclosures, homelessness and poverty

In their cover story, Time wrote broadly of dissenters, from those in the Occupy movement that started in New York and spread to hundreds of cities around the country, to the dissentients of the Arab Spring, “All over the world, the protesters of 2011 share a belief that their countries' political systems and economies have grown dysfunctional and corrupt — sham democracies rigged to favor the rich and powerful and prevent significant change.”

The Occupy Detroit Movement led protests, raised awareness, took in the homeless and then quietly left their packed up their tent city and moved into a building in southwest Detroit.

RAPID TRANSIT DERAILED -- In a stunning setback to Detroit’s revitalization, plans for a light rail system down Woodward Avenue jumped the tracks in the final weeks of 2011, after millions of dollars in funding was raised by private investors. The lack of a regional transit authority to manage the system and no ongoing source to finance the operation spelled doom for the project.

Even more surprising was the partnership between the city and the state in backing an alternative to a light-rail system. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder joined forces to support a high speed regional bus system; plans for light-rail may eventually become part of a future transit plan.

IN MEMORIAM -- The city said farewell in 2011 to a trio of game changers, Don Barden, Eleanor Josaits, and Ofield Dukes, each prominent leaders in their respective areas of business, civil rights and public relations.
Don Barden died May 19, 201 from complications of lung cancer, he was 67. The internationally known businessman founded Barden Cablevision, which built the cable television system that served Detroit and several suburban communities. The self-made millionaire owned Majestic Star, a riverboat casino and in 2001, became the first black owner of a Las Vegas casino with his purchase of Fitzgeralds.

Eleanor Josaitis, Co-founder of Focus: HOPE, died August 9, 2011 of cancer at age 79. The story of the suburban housewife, who left the comfort of her home in the wake of the 1967 Detroit riots to help heal the city’s wounds, is a lasting chapter in Detroit’s history. Josaitis was a stalwart champion of justice who fought against racism and poverty. Along with co-founder, Father William Cunningham, she gave hope to thousands through education, skills and opportunity.

Ofield Dukes, legendary icon and leader of public relations died of multiple myeloma, a rare form of bone cancer, he was 79. The public relations firm of Ofield Dukes & Associates, founded in 1969, served a broad range of clients, from Alex Haley author of "Roots" to numerous Democratic presidential campaigns. Dukes was also an adjunct professor, teaching communications at Howard University and the American University in Washington, D.C. He was the first African American recipient of the Public Relations Society’s the Gold Anvil Award, their highest honor.



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