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In His Own Words

Text of remarks by former Governor Jim Blanchard to the Neighborhood Empowerment Summit, Focus: HOPE Center in Detroit.

April 30, 2002 |
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Let me thank all of you for being here. This is a wonderful turnout on a beautiful spring evening.

Most of you, if not all of you are community leaders. We have elected officials, former elected officials, community activists, clergy, citizens that care. I want to thank you for being here.

We are interested in your ideas. We’re trying to craft a policy to improve neighborhoods and communities throughout our state. Certainly that includes right here in Detroit. Certainly it includes everywhere from Ironwood to Monroe.

We have people here who helped us develop ideas from my hometown of Ferndale, Saginaw, Bay City, Flint, Lansing, and obviously right here in the neighborhood.

Before we start I would like to introduce Janet Blanchard, my wife. I also want to thank everyone who has worked to craft ideas and thoughts. We’re trying to refine a platform for the future of our state, and the future of our cities and neighborhoods.

I especially want to thank the carpenters and millwrights because I saw some of you out front with signs letting people know where we are and that we’re here tonight. And I want to thank our coordinator of this whole effort, who’s put in an enormous amount of time. Chris, thank you.

Strong cities.Strong neighborhoods.
I think we all know that we can’t have a strong Michigan without strong cities and strong neighborhoods. We have been through record prosperity. Seven of the last eight years were record and runaway prosperity in America and in Michigan.

And yet in many respects many of our cities and neighborhoods have declined. It’s not just some of the neighborhoods that we care about. It’s communities as well.

The reality is the only way we’re going to lift our state to the greatness it deserves, and give our people the quality of life that they deserve — that we deserve — is for the state and the governor, and his or her administration, to be an active partner with neighborhood organizations, and community groups, and church groups that are working to improve their neighborhoods and their communities. That is the only way.

Having macro-economic policies are not enough. Many of you know that a couple of months ago I announced my new economic plan to deal with strengthening manufacturing, diversifying our economy, helping create jobs, save jobs, expand trade, improve education, and give us the talent pool for the jobs we need. But we also said at that time that we wanted to craft a new urban, a new community policy. That’s what we’re all about tonight.

The people here tonight that have helped me have generated several hundred ideas. I made a list of 40 and I realized if I even went through those it would take all night and I wouldn’t get your ideas and your input. We have an awful lot of people here with a lot of knowledge. So I’m going to try to abbreviate some of what they’ve suggested to me so we can get into some dialogue and hear what you have to say.

I simply want to say, though, that one of the things I am confident I will do is either at the cabinet or sub-cabinet level create a director for community partnerships. We are going to need that in Michigan. They’re going to need to work actively with cities, townships, and counties — but specifically with neighborhood organizations, nonprofit groups, and church groups — on everything from education, to race relations, to housing, to crime prevention, to environmental protection and recreation.

End racism. Diversity is a strength
It would be ridiculous to talk about improving life in cities or communities or neighborhoods without candidly talking about the fact that we need very much to improve race relations. It’s one of those issues that people don’t always talk about.

The reality is it’s an unspoken issue that we have to deal with. If we are going to be the strong state of the future then our government leaders, starting with the governor — but all of our public officials and our media executives — are going to have to have an ongoing dialogue on how we create better race relations. There’s simply no way for us to have a strong, healthy state and community or world without dealing with that honestly and candidly. It’s been left alone and ignored far too long.

What is a strength in Michigan — diversity — people from all walks of life, and cultures, and ethnicities — is far too often viewed as a handicap. It’s time, as my old friend Bill Clinton said, to make our diversity an asset, and a strength, not a weakness. It’s what makes America great. It’s why people all over the world look to us and realize even though we don’t live up to the American dream in every which way, and we haven’t lived up to our Constitution in every which way, we’re trying. We’re trying.

That’s why people all over the world — even when I was in Canada — want to come to the United States and live. To pursue the American dream. To understand that in this country, as we work at it, that we really can be the place where people have opportunity and hope for their kids. That’s one of the functions of government: to help provide the climate, and the framework, and the legal support for that to happen.


In terms of some of these issues tonight, there are so many. For example education. We have to improve our neighborhood and public schools. Everything from school readiness, to making sure we have healthy curriculum in schools, to making sure we reach out to parents and families who involve the kids so their kids are ready when they start school. To making sure there are incentives for kids to stay in school so they know if they stay in school they’re going to have a job.

And there’s a way to do that through our Detroit compact and now what I call the Michigan compact. They know there will be some higher education. It’s financed for them if they play by the rules and are good students.

And we have to make sure the kids, when they graduate, are employable. It’s not enough. You know that the state of Michigan focuses on graduation rates. This is absurd. We need to have people when they graduate be employable. That means they’re ready for the real world of work. Or they’re ready for the carpenter and millwright training program. Or they’re ready to go to community college or university — whatever it is.

One of the other things we’re looking at — and I want you to seriously focus on tonight — is the thought in high school of having a service learning graduation requirement. That is, requiring that students before they graduate have put in a certain number of hours devoted to service. It’s a learning experience helping others. It might be helping little kids get ready for school. Or it might be helping old folks cope with the trials and tribulations of aging. But community service as part of your graduation requirement allows us not only to graduate people who are hopefully employable but also good citizens. It’s also a way to get people to work in their neighborhoods and their communities to provide a better life.

Moving away from education — which we could talk about all night — we’ll get into crime and public safety. I think most of you know I’m a big fan of community policing. We started that a few years ago, it has expanded around the country, but we’re going to need more community oriented policing. We have a police officer here tonight. We’re going to need to make sure that our police and our law enforcement people have close connections with the communities and neighborhoods and have a seamless interaction so they are partners against crime, and partners for crime prevention.

And that gets also into the whole issue of racial profiling which you read about now. It’s been going on a long time. And we’re going to have to make sure — I think that’s something we want to discuss — that some legislation is crafted that will help reinforce better training, better education, better sensitivity, and probably better technology.

Our conclusion is data collection is nice, but people who cause problems can alter the data. We’re going to need better technology. A lot of communities now use cameras in cars which is a way to curb racial profiling and also to provide for a record in instances of abuse and discrimination.

Own your home
In the area of home ownership, I don’t have to tell anyone here, home ownership is the American dream. And there are far too many people in this city and in this state that have a good job, that have a reliable income, but cannot afford to own their own home. We are going to have to find ways for them to come up with the down payment and get the credit necessary to own a home.

There are a number ways to do that. Our Michigan State Housing Development Authority can help do that. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis, which serves Michigan and Indiana, can do that. We have to figure out a way to help people with that down payment because in most cases they will be able to afford the monthly payment.

That’s just one area. But we’re going to have to do that. We’re going to have to have a more aggressive Michigan State Housing Development Authority. We’re going to have to use individual development accounts to allow people to save.

And in terms of general housing the state is going to have to change the law to be much more aggressive in moving abandoned houses either into rehabilitation and sale, or knocking them down.

There are 40,000 abandoned houses in Detroit alone. They exist everywhere — Saginaw, Midland, all over. And if they’re abandoned for more than a few days they get stripped. They get fleeced. They become breeding grounds for crime and objects of great challenge in neighborhoods. We are going to have to find a way to move that housing stock fast so communities are spared the eyesore, and trouble, and breeding ground for problems.

In terms of neighborhoods generally, I believe that the state should not only be able a helpful partner with community development groups, and neighborhood groups, and church groups but that we should be willing to help finance their activities where they have a proven track record of success.

I’m not talking about the old 1960’s and 70’s programs where the government formed a program and people formed committees for purposes of getting money. I’m talking about going out there — there are plenty of groups that are doing great things everywhere we don’t have to invent them. The government doesn’t have to do it. We don’t have to invent them. We can simply go out and find them. They’re right in front of us.

Focus Hope has been a faith-based organization for several decades here, receiving both federal and state money as I recall. But there are many groups like this — church groups, nonprofit groups all over town. How many of you represent groups that are active in your community?

You understand we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Whether it’s providing better recreation, or day care, or senior care, or economic development, or entrepreneurial activity, or crime watch, there are success stories all over. We need to be a helpful ally to get those groups to do more of what they’re doing and hold them out as role models for others to emulate.

There are a lot of other things we can talk about. Let me just say in the area of health. It is a crime that during record prosperity Michigan would abolish its Mental Health Department and its Public Health Department, then create this gigantic bureaucracy called the Department of Community Health that doesn’t do either very well and cuts, cuts, cuts the budget.

A need for mental health services
I don’t have to tell you, if you’re around for any length of time, you have a friend, or relative, or neighbor, or colleague at work that needs mental health services from time to time. They don’t need to be incarcerated. Once in a while they do need to be hospitalized for a while. They need help and compassion.

But I will tell you, every teacher, every police officer, every sheriff, every judge I talk to talks about the crying need for serious mental health services. We’re going to have to provide those. That’s everywhere again.
We’re not just talking about "urban." Everybody needs these services. There may be greater demand in urban areas but there’s more people who have less health care and bigger problems. But the reality is that everybody needs those services.

I will say that it is a tragedy regarding public health that the worst record of child immunization against disease in the United States of America is in the city of Detroit. For the state of Michigan to allow that — yeah there’s a city responsibility, but the state is the one that’s the head of the Department of Public Health. This is an incredible problem that needs to be dealt with. Need I say more?

It’s everything from health screening to child immunization to trying to provide health benefits to people who work full time but don’t have insurance. And I don’t have to tell you that we’ve got redlining and predatory lending.

Most of you understand that we’re going to have to close loopholes on deceptive practices legally. We’re going to have to involve the commissioner of the Office of Financial Services in dealing honestly with the redlining issue. We’re going to have to have better disclosure, simpler disclosure, for people who are taking out loans. And better enforcement is a serious issue. I don’t have to tell anybody here that. But I want you to know we are aware of it. It’s not just in the city of Detroit, it happens all over our state in certain areas.

Fix it first on roads
The same with transportation. Janet and I did a 50-city tour in 50 days traveling from everywhere from Detroit to Ironwood. Ironwood is farther from Detroit than New York City. But in Ironwood they were worried about mental health. And in Ironwood they worried about the condition of roads too.

In fact, this is interesting. Some of the people in Ironwood that we had lunch with said that they believe that Lansing was deliberately harassing them on their monies for roads and mental health. I said ,‘You’re not alone, everybody feels that way.’

The fact is we’re going to have to focus our highway money on fixing up what we have. We can’t keep building out and out and out. Until we focus on maintaining and repairing what we have our cities are going to look like third world countries. Anybody that drives to Metro airport in downtown Detroit wonders where they are. It’s a disgrace. And corporate leaders are complaining about it. It isn’t just plain folk who have their car thrown out of line. It’s our business leaders who are trying to attract business here as well.

The same is true with public transportation. There’s a high percentage of people in our cities, in our suburbs, particularly our older suburbs, who need public transportation. Not just to get to work, but to get around. We’ve got to figure out a way as a region — the governor’s got to take a leadership role — to make sure that we upgrade and really offer serious public transportation so people can get to work, so they can get around with safe reliable public transportation.

And it’s amazing how many people do not have a car that need to get out and about in this region. I think the climate is right to do something. How to finance that will be difficult. The people will have to decide that, but we’re going to have to.

The same is true for a number of things from the environment, to neighborhood cleanup, to making sure we have a major initiative to reduce lead poisoning in neighborhoods which is a huge problem — bigger than we thought.

Janet was talking with some physicians recently when we were talking about this child immunization initiative and they indicated that a huge percentage of the people in prison tested with high levels of lead poisoning. Now we know lead poisoning does cause people to get crazy, goofy. So it probably has an incredible effect not only on one’s mental health, but on the crime rate, on employability. And I don’t think it’s really been very well understood.

I know we have panelists here who have been working on this issue. It’s a serious issue. It’s one of many environmental issues that we’re going to have to deal with including things like Smart Growth, getting grants for people to help cleanup their neighborhoods.

The same is true when dealing with seniors. You can’t talk about healthy neighborhoods without healthy seniors. They can stay in their homes as long as they want and feel secure. Or if they’re in a senior facility they know it’s reliable, clean, and safe. And yes, often times in their tender years they do have mental health needs as well. We forget all the mental health issues – they’re not just young kids disrupting a classroom, or someone at work that’s stressed out, or a family member that’s depressed. It can be an old person and people often times get confused that mental health problems are just aging. We are going to have to look at that a lot more carefully. That’s something I hear when I’m in senior facilities.
Our beautiful state

Finally, let me just say a little bit about recreation. Because, you know, if you fly around Detroit as I have over the years — whether it’s to Washington, or as Governor in a helicopter, or from Canada — you notice the natural beauty that we have.

This city has a lot of green space. It needs more. We have this magnificent shoreline. You find that’s true in Bay City, Saginaw, Flint, and Lansing. There’s so much we can do with our riverfronts. If the state of Michigan played a role in helping to finance riverfront development — the state is going to have much more active in helping in that area.

In Detroit, by the way, I think the state should be part of helping to cleanup Belle Isle. This is a gem. Most of you know that. We have to help. This can’t all be done by the city. This is something that can be enjoyed by an awful lot of people. It’s time we rolled up our sleeves.

Finally, let me also say that I believe that as we’re tearing down vacant buildings and abandoned houses that have been stripped of their furniture and their appliances to try and cleanup the cities, I think we need to consider establishing urban parks, state parks in our urban areas. I’m a big believer in green space, and parks, and recreation for everybody. To take walks, and play, to run about, to enjoy the great outdoors.

This is one of the most beautiful states in the world. We’re surrounded by Great Lakes. We’ve got fertile soil, lots of trees, lots of grass. We’re a sports-minded state. It’s probably true by the way we need the Governors Council on Physical Fitness just because we keep reading that we also are a little too, as national rankings go, a little too obese.

Maybe it’s because we haven’t done enough with our parks. I don’t know. All I know is that we have a lot of great state parks. We need more of them. We need more ways to allow people to enjoy the outdoors and enjoy each other.

In sum, we’ve got a lot of things we can do. You’re going to have good ideas. I’m going to stop and hear your suggestions. We’re going to take notes. Thank you for hearing me talk entirely too long. I just want you to know that we’ve got a lot of ideas, a lot of work to do.

I’m convinced that if we approach our future with a new spirit of cooperation, of compassion, of innovation, a spirit that says we’re all in this together — whether its Ferndale, Saginaw, Detroit. We’re all in this together. We need partnerships between those that have political power and those who have community power and commitment. We can make a much, much better state and world.

I believe if we go forward and demonstrate that and work together in groups like this all over our state then our citizens will get the quality of life they deserve and we will build a better future all of our people. Thank you.

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