Bankruptcy Hearings Begin In Detroit

A judge is hearing the case about the city's eligibility to file for bankruptcy. Host Scott Simon talks with Rochelle Riley of The Detroit Free Press about the case and general mood in the city.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Detroit went to court this week. What used to be the fifth largest city in the United States, and is now the 18th, filed for bankruptcy in July. But just this last Wednesday, hearings began to determine whether the city negotiated in good faith on paying pensions and whether it can legally file for bankruptcy. So, what is the mood in what's still the Motor City as it approaches an important night on the local calendar? We're joined now by Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press and joins us from member station WDET in Detroit. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROCHELLE RILEY: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: What's the significance of this week's court case?

RILEY: This is huge. You've got a tear in the heart of this city between people who think that they're losing their city, that the state is coming in to take over and take away from the residents what they think they have the right to decide, and people who see this train doing this track towards financial ruin.

SIMON: Help us understand how creditors feel about this. Because they're being asked to settle for less money and sometimes even, I guess, no money.

RILEY: Well, creditors are financial beings, and it's about money. They made loans in good faith. They helped Detroit when Detroit was in a good place and they just want to get paid back.

SIMON: And what about the unions?

RILEY: Well, the unions don't think that the city is broke, or their greater argument is that the city did not negotiate in good faith to try and fix things before filing bankruptcy. Their contention is that the governor, Governor Rich Snyder, hired Kevyn Orr before starting any negotiations, secretly had this deal already laid out.

SIMON: Kevyn Orr is the city manager that he appointed.

RILEY: The emergency manager - with every intention of filing for bankruptcy, that it didn't matter what the unions did or what Mayor Dave Bing, who's become less and less relevant with each passing week, what he did, that this is just the done deal.

SIMON: Rochelle, what's it like to be a Detroiter these days?

RILEY: Well, I'll tell you. We were having a discussion about this. I was moderating a panel discussion. And a young man stood up and he said I just want to know when we're going to stop reacting to things and start doing something active. And that's sort of what's been happening. It's almost like a prize fight where, you know, the city is getting sort of knocked back by different things over and over and over. And there's no relief.

SIMON: And may I ask: is anybody picking up the garbage? Can you feel safe on the streets?

RILEY: Well, one of the things that Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager, did was promise some change in services, but there have complaints even about that. For instance, if they go down and take down all the bad lighting and they, you know, fix the lighting that's left, you still have less lighting but the lighting that will be there will work. And there's a huge, huge focus on public safety. The police chief is also being brought to testify and he was the victim of an attempted carjacking, or what they're thinking may be a carjacking.

SIMON: Was he in uniform? I mean, was this a...

RILEY: He was in plainclothes, just driving in plainclothes.

SIMON: Not that that makes it any better but still.

RILEY: Well, at least they weren't dumb enough to go up to a fully uniformed police chief. But, you know, it's one of those things where we got one of the worst crime problems because there is no rhyme or reason to some of the things that are happening. You've got elderly gentlemen being beaten up at gas stations and people being afraid to come out of their homes at 5 P.M. It's not everywhere and it's not every neighborhood but it's enough that it's becoming what people think about living in Detroit.

SIMON: Rochelle, Halloween's coming up and in Detroit that could mean Devil's Night.

RILEY: Well, it's actually Angel's Night. There was the long myth for a long time that kids were burning down the city. That was never true. It's an opportunity for people to get rid of their stuff to burn it down, whether it was cars or houses. But that has been turned around in a huge way. It was started under former Mayor Dennis Archer, where people by the thousands - volunteers - go out and patrol and make sure that kids are out trick or treating instead of getting in trouble and that adults that know that the night is not for them.

SIMON: Rochelle, Happy Angel's Night next week, OK.

RILEY: Thank you so much. I appreciate that, Scott.

SIMON: Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press joining us from WDET.

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