Detroit's Woes Mount While Detroit is experiencing something of a revival these days, any gains are in sharp contrast with the political gridlock in the city. The mayor has been charged with multiple felonies and the FBI is looking into a possible money-for-votes scheme involving the city council. Noah Ovshinsky reports from Detroit Public Radio.
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Detroit's Woes Mount

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Detroit's Woes Mount

Detroit's Woes Mount

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After years of staggering decline, Detroit has been enjoying a rebound. Businesses and people are coming back to the city. The good news, though, stops at the steps of city hall. Detroit's mayor has been caught in a bitter controversy. The city council has called for him to step down.

But as Detroit Public Radio's Noah Ovshinsky reports, the same council is now mired in a scandal of its own.

NOAH OVSHINSKY: Even for a city steeped in bad news, this latest controversy came as a shock.

Mr. KEN COCKREL JR. (President, Detroit City Council): Yes, this is an issue. Yes, it may put a big question mark over council's heads and some folk's minds. But we can't stop doing what we do on a daily basis. We can't stop doing the city's business and we can't stop the - trying to fulfill and achieve the goals that we've set for ourselves.

OVSHINSKY: President Ken Cockrel Jr. recently told his city council colleagues that it would be business as usual in spite of the news that the FBI is investigating one or more of its members. Under investigation is an alleged money-for-vote scheme. Cockrel's own chief of staff resigned after he was caught on an FBI surveillance tape taking money. Another council member, former Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins, says her grandson, last week, woke her up with news that the FBI was at the door.

Ms. BARBARA-ROSE COLLINS (Former Detroit Representative): That's who they are? No, I said, that's the housekeeper. He's just trying to make me get up early. He said, Grandma, look at me. Answer the door.

OVSHINSKY: Charges of public corruption are nothing new here. But rarely, if ever, has the city's mayor and city council been under investigation at the same time. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick awaits trial on perjury and conspiracy charges and has rebuffed calls to step down.

But what makes the situation even more awkward is that the city council has asked Michigan's governor to remove the mayor from office. Now that both branches are under scrutiny, there is plenty of distrust and gridlock to go around. Mayor Kilpatrick is so quick to distance himself from the latest FBI investigation that he recently threatened the media with a lawsuit.

Mayor KWAME KILPATRICK (Detroit): My lawyers have drafted up a latter to each one of the stations, actually. So, you know, you can put me in that false light. It has nothing to do with me. I have no comment at all. I believe that we still have to process work.

OVSHINSKY: All of this controversy could not come at a worst time. The auto industry - the cornerstone of Michigan's economy - is in a spiraling crisis. Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm, concedes that the state's fortunes are closely tied to Detroit.

Governor JENNIFER GRANHOLM (Michigan): A state cannot thrive without a thriving city, a big city. Detroit is our big city. And to the extent that they are experiencing these enormous challenges, whether they're ethical challenges or financial challenges, it is not good for Michigan.

OVSHINSKY: Like many manufacturing cities, Detroit has struggled to diversify its economy and recently took a big step forward when it convinced the nation's largest online retail mortgage lender to move downtown. And there are other encouraging signs. But experts say the political turmoil isn't helping.

Corey Leon(ph) is a Detroit-based real estate consultant.

Ms. COREY LEON (Real Estate Consultant): It makes it very difficult, you know, for a city that's facing controversy to compete with another location that may just be across the border.

OVSHINSKY: The city's slogan is engraved on a wall just outside Detroit's municipal building. Coined after a fire destroyed the city in 1805, it reads, from the Latin, we hope for better things, it shall rise from the ashes. But residents here wonder who and what will be left to rise.

For NPR News, I'm Noah Ovshinsky in Detroit.

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