THE RECOVERY BEGINS
Ken Cockrel: We have to heal and move city forward
Detroit City Council President Kenneth Cockrel Jr., incoming Detroit mayor, sat down with senior editor Bankole Thompson for an exclusive interview on the day that outgoing mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pled guilty to felony charges and announced his resignation. In the interview the former Detroit City Council president said his first task would be getting a handle on the city’s finances. Following are excerpts from that interview.
MICHIGAN CHRONICLE: Where do we go from here?
KEN COCKREL JR: As I mentioned during my press conference and what I firmly believe is there are two things we’ve got to do. First, there needs to be a period of healing and a time for healing. Then after that we really have to go back to work. We have to come back together as a community. On a certain level the events of the past several months divided the community and now is the time for us to come together. Today I know that there are a lot of people grieving and the mayor (Kwame Kilpatrick) has a tremendous amount of support still in the community. I know a lot of those folks who are very upset and even the folks I think that are the mayor’s enemies or opponents on a certain level are grieving today because this is a sad day. This is not something anybody wanted to see happen. Yes, I did along with the majority of the council push for the mayor to be removed. But it was nothing personal. It was all about business and about what we felt was best for the city. However, even to see it come down this way, it is sad for the city and we need to recognize that and deal with it. But we also need to be prepared to move the city forward, try to continue its revitalization and its rebirth.
MC: Do you think the city is ready to heal?
KC: I believe that the city is ready to heal. More importantly, we have to heal. Anything less is not an option. So we have to be ready to heal and we actually have to do it. We have to come back together as a community. That is the only way the city of Detroit will survive. That is the only way that it will move forward.
MC: Are you ready for this challenge?
KC: Absolutely I am. I’ve heard that question raised but it’s important to understand that I’ve been in city government now for 11 years. That means technically I’ve got more city government experience than the current mayor has. Even prior to that I served on the Wayne County Commission for three years. So I have quiet a bit of experience as an elected official, quiet a bit of experience in local government and all of that experience and all of that knowledge I’m going to bring into play in terms of how I approached this position. I’m going to try to surround myself with the best people. I’m going to keep good people around me, bring in new people that are good and together we are going to develop an agenda for moving the city of Detroit forward.
MC: What would be your biggest challenge?
KC: There is no question, it’s the budget. The city’s financial situation is still precarious. One of the things I think is going to be imperative for us to deal with is to get a better handle on exactly what the city’s true financial state is. It’s been tough to do that because of the fact that the previous administration has not supplied the comprehensive annual financial report for the last fiscal year. And it’s that report which really shows you the true financial state of the city. With that having been late and still late we still don’t have it. We don’t really have a clear picture. So one of the things that is important to me is to undertake the financial review of the city to find out exactly where we are.
MC: You indicated you will be doing some cleaning house as incoming mayor. To what extent will you conduct that?
KC: I’m going to be doing some degree of house cleaning. But I hesitate and will not say exactly where and who because as I mentioned I’m not the mayor yet. There is a two week transition period and I will not be stepping into that role until Sept. 19. So I think most likely I’m not going to be making announcements about certain key post or city key department head positions until Sept. 19 or sometime shortly thereafter because again you’ve still got people doing some of those jobs and they are doing them under the current mayor. And I don’t want somebody who’s already doing their job to read in the newspaper or hear on the radio they are being replaced when they are still operating in that capacity.
MC: Would you run for mayor and are you in favor of a charter revision?
KC: As it relates to mayoral ambition right now, my only ambition is to try to do my part to heal the city and to help move this city forward. In terms of what I’m going to do politically, whether that means running in a special election or in next year’s regularly scheduled election, that’s not really my focus right now. Right now my focus is coming in trying to heal the city, move this city forward and do what we need to do to get back on track.
There will be a time and place for me to make an announcement about what my future political plans may be at a later day. But today is not really about that. (On charter revision) I definitely think that there are some areas of the charter, which could stand to be rewritten and tweaked a little bit. One of the things that became apparent to us even going through this process is if you look, for example, at some of the language governing forfeiture was what’s central to this issue in terms of how council wanted to proceed in dealing with the mayor. Some of that language and somewhat unclear and there may be need to clarify some of that. There are other areas where I think the language could stand to be rewritten.
The other thing also important to note is that the current version of the city charter was approved in 1996. Here we are in 2008. Maybe it’s time to take a look at making some changes.