‘Give us a chance’
George Cushingberry talks about bad publicity, plans for city
By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Bad publicity comes with the territory, says Detroit CIty Council President Pro-Tem George Cushingberry.
“Any man elected for 30 years is going to have some bad runs,” Cushingberry says. “I’ve had worse.”
During an interview in his office following a week of “bad publicity”, the Cush, as he’s called by his staff and constituents, appeared unmoved by weeklong negative press and shared his thoughts about his outlook for Detroit.
“We have 80 percent of the city back already by agreement with the Mayor and Emergency Manager,” says Cushingberry who intends on working closely with Mayor Mike Duggan. He also says he is focused on raising revenue for Detroit. He says the new charter makes it possible for Detroit to form it’s own insurance company and high insurance rates are a disincentive for people looking to move into or stay in the city.
“When I left the Wayne County Commission in 2002, Detroit received $301 million in property tax revenue. It’s now down to $115 million – that’s a shock,” says Cushingberry.
He believes city leaders were too focused on state revenue sharing and missed the smaller opportunities to make Detroit a more livable city.
He also says he has worked for years on a digital white paper of sorts – a blog – with all of his policy ideas for the city.
For now, however, he is dealing with the publicity.
It started his second day on the job, when a staffer responded to an unfavorable Detroit News editorial that called Cushingberry an “old school political operative” saying council had made a poor choice selecting Cushingberry as Pro Tem.
Staff member Richard Clement, who manages the council member’s social media accounts, posted in the comments section of the News’ website: “Dear Detroit News, Go to hell. Go straight to hell. Do not pass go and don’t even think about collection $200. Jones and Cush will lead the Push for an even Greater Detroit. #WeLoveDetroit.”
Cushingberry told the Michigan Citizen he supports the comment and says being called a political operative diminishes his record of public service. Over the years, Cushingberry has served on the Wayne County Commission and, as a lawmaker, he served on both the House Appropriations and Ways and Means committee and has even worked as a college professor.
Cushingberry says he has worked “his whole life to be credentialed” and that his life’s work is “wiped out because you say I’m a political operative and an obstructionist.” The media in Detroit destroys its citizens and their elected officials, according to the councilmember.
“It goes back to the Coleman days,” he said referring to Mayor Coleman Young who often criticized the media’s reporting of Black elected leadership and citizenry in the city.
“They’re beating me up because I am more vocal. I know I’m going to have to take some hits.”
Indeed. Last week, the media reported Cushingberry had been stopped by Detroit Police officers after almost hitting a police car after leaving a strip club on the city’s east side. Reports also stated Cushingberry had an open alcohol container and marijuana.
Much of the initial reports were wrong. The strip club he was supposedly leaving on the east side had been closed down for months. There was a week-old empty alcohol bottle in the car and he was not in possession of marijuana, according to Cushingberry who also says he wasn’t given a sobriety test. He also said he was the victim of racial profiling.
The story raised the ire of editors and citizens alike. Since the initial police stop, Cushingberry is a nonstop news story. News of his bankruptcy, parking tickets and probate history have all become stories. The city’s Inspector General is now investigating him and some are asking the Emergency Manager to remove him from city council and his council leadership position.
“All of this information about Cushingberry was true BEFORE he was made Council Pro Tem. Most before he was elected. Now voters are being blamed as stupid. Why didn’t media report any of this information before?” asks Facebook user Tia Johnson.
“We can’t afford any more additions to a growing mis-leadership class that manipulates language that is intended to describe legitimate oppression and state-sponsored terror. ‘Driving While Black’ incidents too often end with Black men dead. City Council identification cards typically don’t factor into the equation,” writes Deadline Detroit’s editor Darrell Dawsey.
Cushingberry says he can understand why some say the police treated him favorably.
“I guess I can see how somebody can feel like I received preferential treatment because (the media never reported) that (the police) didn’t investigate me for drunken driving.”
He says the reports — including the erroneous ones — aren’t a distraction for him.
“What it does is (it) points to a lot of the problems our region is facing, “ he says. “If we get bogged down in things that don’t relate to the efforts that we’re trying to make. It gives the idea that some people are not helping with the recovery. And (some media outlets) are trying to find ways to put down people. I think we have too much of that in Detroit.”
Cushingberry says he’s used to it, having been politically active since he was a youth.
“I thought it would come to an end when I got to be an elected official but it just got worst. While I was in the legislature, the system constantly challenged me, so it doesn’t distract me anymore because it’s just what we expect.”
Cushingberry says he’s a “jobs, justice, peace and equal opportunity democrat.”
“I’m for people’s civil (and human) rights,” he said. “So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re bound to have some people who are going to be naysayers. You can’t do anything about it.”