Pay To Play In Detroit

The Second Essential Scary Truth

The Old Man walked into the house on a glorious early spring day the early 1980’s with a wicked grin on his face.  Usually when my Father was sporting that sort of smile, the evenings tip at the track would be sure to pay long odds: 15-1 minimum.

“Judy, I gave $10,000 to Coleman Young today,” he said.  I thought Mother was going to pass out.  She grabbed the black Formica counter top to brace herself.  I was confused, wondering why my father would give money to the man he considered to be the scourge of his once great city.

Coleman A. Young was Detroit’s first African-American mayor and ran the city for a little over 19 years.  He was reviled by the mostly white suburbs for using the race card with alarming frequency to keep the city and region divided thus ensuring his re-election in the mostly black city.  The mayor’s constituents saw him as a strong leader unafraid to stand up to anyone or any group in an attempt to better their lives.  To this day, Mayor Young remains a love him or hate him character in Detroit’s storied and occasionally infamous history.

The Wikipedia offers this view of the man tenure in Detroit’s Manoogian Mansion:

Young’s administration was controversial, and he found himself the subject of continued FBI scrutiny amid allegations of contract kickbacks. He was criticized for his confrontational style toward whites and suburban interests, and the apparent diversion of city resources to downtown Detroit from other neighborhoods. Young was generally popular with African-American inhabitants of the city, while generally disliked by white Detroiters and suburban-dwellers because of his outspoken criticism of racism and white flight to the suburbs, and his perceived favoritism of African-American interests.

Young was an outspoken advocate for federal funding for Detroit construction projects, and his administration saw the completion of the Renaissance CenterDetroit People MoverJoe Louis Arena, and several other Detroit landmarks. He also negotiated with General Motors to build its new “Poletown” plant at the site of the former Dodge Main plant. This was very controversial, as the new plant was larger than the old one and the deal involved many evictions via eminent domain. During Young’s last two administrations there was increasing opposition among some neighborhood activists to these large construction projects. This opposition typically manifested itself in rigorous budget debate rather than in serious electoral challenges against Young. During this period City Council President Maryann Mahaffey became an outspoken advocate for neighborhood development with the involvement and leadership of community based organizations. Most of the time Young prevailed over this opposition, seeking jobs and economic stimulus as a way to help rebuild Detroit’s neighborhoods.

The Old Man was more succinct: “He’s a fucking gonif (thief) who claims to hate whites so he can steal from everybody and while the city falls to shit, he doesn’t care as long as he gets rich.”  So why did he give this man he hated a dime?

The Old Man had several contracts from the city of Detroit to provide residents of several welfare hotels and city run condo developments with his commercial washers and dryers.  These contracts were as lucrative as some of the major suburban apartment complexes that also used my father’s Randz Co. (then the largest commercial washer and dryer firm in Southeastern Lower Michigan, Northern Ohio and Lawton Oklahoma) machines.

“I got a call from the mayor’s office today.  They told me they appreciated how I serviced the welfare SRO’s, the machines always work, the complaints are down from the residents etc., especially the Hotel DeVur,” he said.

The Hotel DeVur was a mammoth proto-crack hotel located in the Cass Corridor the most violent, drug-ridden district of Detroit.  The men who collected the quarters for the Randz Co. always carried a weapon, any weapon when they first started working the DeVur.  Brain, Gary, Kurt et al. always had the feeling at any minute they could be jumped and killed for the $500 in quarters they carried in off white bank bags as they literally ran through the basement from laundry room to laundry room.

To combat the open hostility and threats from the hotel’s residents, the Old Man came up with a simple plan; he installed brand new machines and made sure each and every service complaint was resolved within 12 hours.  Within a matter of days, the residents of the crime infested, crumbling massive SRO were openly friendly and utterly respectful of the equipment and the collectors.

“The guy said he the city was happy I treated all the residents of the Hotel DeVur like people in stead of chayas (animals), which is how the city treats them.  So, as all my city contracts are up for re-bid next month I was told for a personal $10,000 campaign contribution to Coleman Young, I would get all those contracts and the city would look favorably toward any other building I bid on,” he said.

“So what did you do Dad,” I asked expecting him to say I told the bastard to fuck off.  His answer surprised me.

“I asked where I could drop off the check and drove down there personally.  By the time I got back to the office, they same guy called back to tell me there was no reason to re-bid the contracts.  I got them for another two years at the same price.”

Whatever you want to say about Coleman A. Young good or bad he made sure when you paid, you played.











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