The new Detroit City Council is much different than the old Detroit City Council in that only four previous members remain.
There is new, more diverse blood in this iteration with a Hispanic woman and a white man having seats. Council has operated under emergency management symbolically with its votes either rubber stamps or overridden in Lansing. But this new City Council will be marked as decidedly different because of the veteran political presence of George Cushingberry Jr.
George is a well-known name around these parts. He was a Wayne County Commissioner for years before heading to Lansing for roughly a decade. He came to the Council table Monday bringing along a lot of the game he learned in the legislature. Before Council ever made it to the table he had threatened to run for Council president, over-tipping the apple cart. Former Council President Saunteel Jenkins was running against council veteran Brenda Jones. Jenkins was considered the front runner.
Cushingberry’s entrance threat created a bit of a political sand storm. If he actually went for the seat it would have split the vote and ensured Jenkins’ re-election. So “Cush," as he is known by his friends, went to Jones and offered to run for President Pro-Tem so she could win the presidency if she would support him. There was likely some other quid-pro-quo that wasn’t mentioned here today, but Jones was only happy to take this deal and run. That’s how the vote went. She took over as President; Cushingberry is now President Pro-Tem. He was unapologetic in admitting that was how the bare knuckle deal making was done before the vote this morning. Saunteel Jenkins found herself surprised, disappointed and emotional in a post meeting interview.
What this all portends is all politics of the tough variety. Cushingberry held leadership positions in Lansing and knows all the tricks. He all but admitted on camera today he is likely to play “bad cop” to Jones’ “good cop," saying he is ready to “rabble rouse” to remake the council’s shape, operation and approach to budgets. He says the council was dysfunctional over the past four years, spent so much money it was $170 million in debt, something Cushingberry cannot begin to fathom. He called it a new day in Detroit and promises to try and reduce the number of committees and gain changes in operations to align with the new city charter that has council members serving districts instead of at-large among other things.
While Cushingberry says he fully supports New Mayor Mike Duggan, let us not forget Brenda Jones backed former council members JoAnn Watson and Kwame Kenyatta in full throated opposition to anything and everything that went with the consent agreement and emergency management because they had the financial backing and support of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Unions. That Jones, who is herself a former union local chief, has the gavel says the fireworks emanating from council chambers have likely just begun anew and in a different direction.
But Cushingberry’s arrival also says we may never know what to expect other than a complete departure of what he might say is the bobble headed nodding toward the emergency manager and Dave Bing before that.
Politics of a Lansing stripe have arrived, but it’s more likely that these politics will not back much of anything the emergency manager wants to do. It was a fascinating first day, and after Tuesday’s swearing in it’s off to the races.