Rep. John Olumba entered the mayor’s race last week. (See May 19 issue of Michigan Citizen.) Olumba discusses poverty, corruption and industry creation with the Michigan Citizen.
Why have you decided to enter the mayoral race at this time?
I think as a newer politician — someone who came back to Detroit and had to knock doors to win, who cold not get support from the political establishment — I look at the emergency manager as a verdict on some of the people who have been around Detroit. We have been taken advantage of politically. We haven’t been taking care of business like we should have.
First, I very much disagree with (having) an emergency manager. I think my record and work behind the emergency manager issue is second to none. I worked with the groups (to get the repeal question on the ballot).
While we’re against emergency management, it’s time to wake up and pay attention to what’s going on politically in the city of Detroit and in the state. Now is a perfect opportunity to hit the reset button to get a fresh start. And for a person like me who’s had a long enough political career to learn about local, state and national politics, I haven’t been around long enough to be of/in the establishment, nor will I enter the establishment.
I would like to be the person to lead Detroit into what I call the age of revival. I’m encouraged, despite our difficulties, because we’ve always shown our ability to bounce back.
Many Detroiters say crime is the biggest problem in Detroit. What do you see as the city’s biggest problem?
Crime is a great issue right now in Detroit. But it’s still a subset of the major issue, which is multi-generational poverty. Poverty is the overarching issue in Detroit. Crime has risen to the top of the symptoms of poverty because we’ve gone through multiple generations of people who have lacked opportunity. So, I’ve created a plan — it’s called the Detroit Partnership for Hope. The subset of that plan is a trilateral war: A war on poverty, crime and political corruption.
The war on crime talks about blue collar crime: Petty theft, robbery, larceny, homicide drug related, etc.
The model I’m working with right now says we need a better police presence in our communities, but I don’t want police harassing individuals because we have a history of police harassment in Detroit. I’ve seen what it looks like when police are overly aggressive.
The police presence I’m talking about would use tactical bus units. They have those now in the United Kingdom where they use double decker buses with solar panels. The buses drive through certain areas, park in the area for a couple of days (seven or eight buses).
Instead of reporting to precincts to work, they will report to mobile bus units. They’re not on patrol, but there’s a police presence. It creates a generic police presence within the community. These buses will rotate to “troubled” communities and on the outskirts of other communities. I think it’s also a creative way of using the empty space (in the city). Buses will park on lots. That’s where I’d like to take the future of Detroit policing.
When I studied economics at University of Michigan, there was a course called the Economics of Crimes. We studied how a criminal is a rational, economic thinker. They want to set up a stable location and build clientele. In the case of a drug house, and many of the homicides linked to drug-related crimes, they set up a dope house if they can stay there for a year and a half. They’ll make a lot of money. They can be there for a number of years and wreak havoc on the neighborhood.
With the tactical bus units, we’re disallowing drug outfits to set up. The sheer police presence will cause them to move shop. Over time, their clientele will find somewhere else to go.
You say poverty is the city’s biggest problem. How would you solve the poverty problem in Detroit?
We’ve found that a lot of times, when you have multi-generational poverty, it’s a reflection of the government. The government, to a certain degree, has failed.
I would use my second home, Nigeria, as an example. My father is Nigerian. He came over from Nigeria in the 1960s to get support for the Ibo tribe during the Biafran war. The Biafran war was about Nigerian independence; it was also about pervasive corruption. In Nigeria, you have one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources … Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa but it’s still underdeveloped compared to other African countries. The reason why is, despite the overabundance of natural resources, Nigeria is plagued with political corruption. To me, that is Detroit.
We have so much potential in Detroit, so many resources and things we could have been doing to make Detroit a first class city. I think cronyism and political corruption has held us back. I’m talking political corruption in the state of Michigan and in southeast Michigan at Wayne County.
For a number of years, Coleman Young tried to do a number of things to put Detroit on the map, and McNamara would block that activity because he or his administration couldn’t get paid from it. Political corruption and poverty go hand in hand.
I’m going to earnestly take the $1.5 billion (which is a little less now) and spend every penny on programs, such as public boarding schools, which I have legislation for now in Lansing.
Programs like these are linchpins to break chain of multi-generational poverty.
For example, there are three or four families living in one household in my neighborhood. And there’s a young boy in school.
He can’t find a clear room to do homework … Mother can’t get on her feet because she has to take him to school, and he has three other siblings. This program can help him go to school a few days and come home on the weekend. Whatever is enough to help her get her stuff together and the son can get education without social disruption. It’ll change educational structure for young kids.
Detroit’s unemployment rate is the highest in the state. The unofficial number is near 50 percent. What can you do to create jobs in Detroit?
I believe government is an industry creator because when government supports certain industries, corporations come and feed off those industries and hire people for jobs. When we had the auto industry, that brought companies here and restaurants, etc.
The mayor should not be focused so much on job creation as industry establishment. Mainly the import and export industry. I’m more focused on developing the water port so that we can accommodate large textile ships. Right now, the city port is doing 15 million tons in comparison to Port Huron’s port, which is smaller and doing 16 million. Chicago is doing 70 million. Philadelphia, 50 million. And New York 170 million. That’s a major industry that will attract other companies to produce jobs.
I have a bill moving now in Lansing that will expand the Detroit water port and air port. Right now, cargo is being shipped to Macnamara in Romulus when it can be shipped directly to Detroit’s city airport.
Also focused on energy and tech industries. There’s a lot of money in energy and tech. As well as oil. We can work with African countries to produce at least 1-2 percent of oil for refining here in the city of Detroit instead of in Texas or other U.S. cities. Those are all long term.
In the short term, I’d expand city services that will produce jobs. When Coleman Young was mayor, we did very little contracting. At that time, City was employing 25-30,000 people. We maintained close to 50 departments. Right now, the City is down to 22 departments and 13,000 employees.
Another example, they’re talking about contracting out the law department. I would oppose Kevyn Orr on contracting out the law department. Law is expensive, it costs a lot to hire lawyers. Lawyers are necessary because the City is constantly being sued.
I would look and ask what are the services the City performs that are costly and we have to do a lot of. I would expand those departments. We’ll have more money within the budget to do this because there’ll be less graft, less corruption, and there’s going to be an emphasis and priority put on the people.
You were heavily criticized about your vote to expand the Educational Achievement Authority. Why would you vote in favor to expand the EAA?
In my floor speech, I said I disagree because … I’m opposed to a system that only operates in Detroit. Detroiters ought to understand because only you will have to fight against that, and no one cares what happens to you (like insurance, no one cares).
The EAA is set up to expand to another 12 schools. (I voted to expand the EAA) to make sure it’s not only a Detroit system but a statewide system. Everybody should drink the same hemlock.
My vote was to establish the fact that Detroit is going to be the object of everybody else’s scrutiny. The Democratic caucus is saying vote against it because they don’t want (the EAA) in their areas.
Unlike some of the other candidates, you say the New International Trade Crossing is a major issue in this campaign. How so?
The political establishment has made the bridge issue polarizing. People want to be mayor but don’t want to talk about issues that are controversial.
It’s a big deal for Detroit’s future. We’re saying we can’t take a side because it’s about Matty Maroun and (Gov. Rick) Snyder.
The issue is not about Snyder or Maroun. The real issue is, will it service the Detroit/Wayne County port authority or the Canadian port authority?
If Canada has it their way, … all the business that could be going to Detroit will go to the Canadian side.
It’s sad we can’t make this more of a national issue. We ought to have a conversation in Washington. Canada is building a new port that’s going to be better than the Detroit port and closer to the new bridge. Detroit needs to fight on that issue.