‘Kevyn Orr has to go’
Orr says Detroit is “dumb, lazy, happy and rich”
By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Over 30 members of Detroit clergy and community leaders held a press conference Aug. 6 calling for the removal of Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr from his position. Led by Rev. Tellis Chapman, pastor of Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, where the press conference was held, speaker after speaker said they wanted Orr to be removed from office following his derogatory comments in a recent Wall Street Journal article where he said Detroiters are “dumb, lazy, happy and rich.”
They also called for an apology from Orr, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in March.
Orr told the WSJ:
“Much of Detroit’s dysfunction is also due to simple complacency. ‘For a long time, the city was dumb, lazy, happy and rich,’ he explains. ‘Detroit has been the center of more change in the 20th century than I dare say virtually any other city, but that wealth allowed us to have a covenant (that held) if you had an eighth grade education, you’ll get 30 years of a good job and a pension and great health care, but you don’t have to worry about what’s going to come.’”
“It is not only an insult to the city of Detroit, it’s a character assassination,” Rev. Chapman said of Orr’s comments. “I thought when you saw a drowning person, you try to save them, (not) pour water on them.”
Chapman continued, “He was sent to this city to work on behalf of the governor, who, in my opinion, is part of the overall conspiracy.”
Rev. D. Alexander Bullock, founder/director of Change Agent Consortium called Orr’s language demeaning, divisive, deceptive and destructive.
“This kind of language — in the context of America — symbolizes the way in which African Americans have been portrayed as being ‘niggardly, slothful, backward, ignorant,’ and so Detroit, being an 82 percent African American city, we know that there is a racial lens by which these words should be understood … We cannot stand by and allow Kevyn Orr and Gov. Snyder to resurrect language that we once felt so demeaning that we marched, rallied and protested to stop it.”
Detroit NAACP President Wendell Anthony said Orr, in his comments, has only seen fit to castigate and denigrate the people of Detroit.
“Detroit is better than that,” Anthony said. “Our workers are better than that, and the people who live here are better than that.”
Anthony rebuked Orr saying Detroit is not the only city or state government experiencing financial hardship.
“Illinois has the worst credit rating of any state in the nation — an overall pension debt of nearly $97 billion and a backlog of unpaid bills nearing $10 billion,” Anthony said. Just a week ago, Moody’s downgrade brought Chicago’s rating down three notches. All of the city’s pension funds were near collapse with unfunded liabilities. In 2012, the city’s unfunded pension liabilities reached $19.5 billion.
“Moody’s puts (the number) closer to $36 billion,” Anthony said, adding that “the city of Los Angles could also be facing a liability of more than $30 billion.”
Anthony said Orr’s remarks are indicative of what happens when unelected officials who are not responsible to the community are left to “run loose among the people (they) are supposed to serve.”
“If you don’t respect the people, you can’t represent the people,” Anthony said.
Al Garrett, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, called on Wayne County commissioners and incoming council members to pass a resolution for the governor to remove Orr.
“We’ve said this was about an attitude toward the residents of the city of Detroit,” Garrett said. He added that Orr’s comments reveal the true motivation behind the emergency manager appointment and bankrupt filing in Detroit. “Let’s not let them define us,” said Garrett.
Days following Orr’s comments, spokesperson Bill Nowling attempted to clarify the EM’s comments, saying they were taken out of context. “I believe Kevyn Orr was speaking about the attitude of the body politic of the city of Detroit, not Detroiters themselves,” he said. “And, I am pretty sure that history, both recent and ancient, bears out such a comment.”
Orr told the Michigan Citizen through Nowling, “I realize my comments have offended some Detroiters. That was never my intention, nor has it been my practice during my entire professional career. I am sorry that I have caused offense. I am focused on the future of Detroit and returning it to financial stability viability.”
Gov. Snyder’s spokesperson Sarah Wurfel sent the following e-mail response: “What I’d say is that the governor believes and accepts that Kevyn certainly didn’t mean how that unfortunate choice of words may have come across, and he’s confident that Kevyn is focused on finding solutions and forging partnerships, and is deeply committed to the city and the best interests of Detroiters. It is going to take all of us working together to build a better, stronger Detroit.”
Nowling also says Orr has no intention of leaving his job until it’s done.