With Michigan on the verge of taking over the failing city of Detroit, our pal Eclectablog updated his famous chart yesterday. If Governor Rick Snyder does in fact appoint an emergency manager for Detroit, the chart shows, then 49 percent of the African-Americans in Michigan will have had their locally elected democracies stripped away. Add in the towns that signed consent agreements with the state to avoid being taken over, and you get to 50.6 percent.
It is by no means certain that Governor Snyder will appoint an emergency manager for Detroit. With strong support from the city, opponents of the emergency manager law got it repealed through a direct vote in November. Weeks later, Republicans in the legislature then passed a new version of the law, one that lets local officials vote an emergency manager out after 18 months. Nolan Finley of the Detroit News considers the risk for Snyder in taking control of Detroit:
Fixing all that’s wrong with Detroit in the 18 months an emergency manager will have to work with will take a blitzkrieg. Snyder can’t afford for the takeover to fail.
Apart from one exception, not a single town or school district put under emergency management has emerged with a happy outcome. In the case of Detroit, Snyder would have a year and a half to either fix the city or convince the Detroit City Council that he was fixing it. Otherwise, they would have the chance to boot his emergency manager sometime in late 2014. That happens to coincide with the campaign for governor and for the legislature. Snyder has not said yet whether he intends to run again (adding: or has he?), but his popularity has fallen, and Republicans lost seats in the legislature in the last election.
Before now, the emergency manager law has worked more as a dictatorship, with no return of local democracy until the state permitted it. An emergency manager could cut the budget and sell off the public assets and blame the town for continuing to struggle. For Snyder and his party, taking control of Detroit would be a whole other deal. They would be accountable for what happened, with what amounts to a first referendum by Detroit officials, followed by another statewide vote in November 2014.
Updating: At a press conference this afternoon, Snyder sounded like a guy trying to lower expectations. He didn’t say whether he’ll appoint a manager for Detroit, but he did say things like, “It’s going to be really hard” and ”It’s not like we’re starting at even. We’re starting at a disadvantage.”