Detroit Aims to Build Relationship With President Trump

In a photo from Jan. 25, 2017, Midtown businesswoman Sharil Roby poses in her store in Detroit. Roby has been selling shoes since 1979, witnessing the city’s painful sink toward insolvency and, now, its bounce-back with millions of dollars in help from the Obama Administration. Detroit is gearing up to work with President Trump after receiving millions of dollars in federal grants and support from the Obama White House. But some are concerned that Detroit won’t get the same level of love from Trump as the city received from Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Corey Williams)

When Donald Trump visited Detroit as a presidential candidate, he was confronted by protesters, denounced by pastors and blasted by the mayor for running a campaign of bigotry.

On Election Day, Detroit voters cemented their opinion of the GOP ticket by overwhelmingly casting ballots for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The city that received hundreds of millions of dollars in help from President Barack Obama’s administration now waits to see what kind of treatment to expect from Trump, who pledged to rebuild urban areas but also famously remembers criticism.

“It’s going to be interesting to build a relationship, and we’re going to work on it,” Mayor Mike Duggan said this month during a Detroit Economic Club panel discussion.

When Detroit was mired in debt and unable to provide basic services for its shrinking population, Obama and his department heads stepped up with checkbooks in hand. City officials are concerned they might get far less assistance over the next four years.

Detroit’s relationship with Trump will probably be “fundamentally different,” said Rip Rapson, president and chief executive of the Michigan-based Kresge Foundation, which offers grants to support the arts, human services and community development.

The Obama administration was committed to helping “a struggling city committed to helping itself, coming out of place of decency and compassion,” Rapson said. “I don’t have the sense that would be the impulse of the Trump administration. I would love to be wrong.”

Asked about its plans for Detroit, the White House declined to say whether funding levels would change. Assistant press secretary Ninio Fetalvo said the administration was “considering all options.”

Since emerging in 2014 from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, Detroit has been on an upward path. Dozens of new city buses now roll through the streets. A 3.3-mile light rail line is expected to open this year, and tens of thousands of vacant homes have been cleared away from blighted neighborhoods. It all happened with vast sums from Washington.

Without consistent support from the Obama administration, “we would not be as well-positioned today for the city’s comeback,” said Dave Bing, mayor from 2009 through 2013.

Jeff and Sharil Roby have been selling shoes near Detroit’s Midtown since 1979, witnessing the city’s descent into insolvency and its slow climb back toward stability. The owners of Roby’s Shoes are counting on Trump to smile on the Motor City because, they say, Detroit still needs it. The new streetcars will pass by their store.

The “neighborhood is changing and coming back,” Sharil Roby said. “We see a lot of improvement.”

Trump repeatedly said during the campaign that he would fix troubled urban areas, although he offered no clear plans. In his inauguration speech, he referred to “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities.”

He also mentioned Detroit.

“And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky. They fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator,” Trump said.

However, Trump’s relationship with the city got off to a contentious start during a September visit to a Detroit church.

“I want to help you build and rebuild Detroit, and we can do that,” Trump told the congregation. “I want to make this city the economic envy of the world … factories everywhere, new roads and bridges, new schools.”

Outside, hundreds of protesters picketed. Other pastors sharply criticized the future president, and Duggan accused the nominee of running a campaign “through the nomination process of bigotry.”

Now that Trump is in the White House, Duggan said the president’s interest in improving the nation’s infrastructure could lead to collaboration with Detroit.

During the panel discussion broadcast on Detroit television station CBS-62, the mayor said he planned to approach the relationship “with an open mind, looking to build partnerships where we can. And if it goes a different way, we’ll deal with that.”

The city’s support for Clinton and criticism of Trump could pose tall obstacles, said Matthew Hale, associate professor of political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.

“Everything that we know about Donald Trump is that he holds a grudge,” Hale said. “I would imagine Duggan would not be on an invite list with Donald Trump anytime soon.”

Detroit and other cities where Trump constituencies are small or nonexistent are likely to see cutbacks in funding, added Wayne State University Law professor Peter Henning.

“The goodie store is going to close,” Henning said. “The urban areas don’t do as well under a Republican administration. Also, if the incoming administration’s plans come to fruition – an increase in defense spending and lower taxes – there’s going to be a budget squeeze.”

The easiest place to squeeze out dollars is from “constituents who don’t have much of a voice,” such as the urban poor, Henning said.

Leila Harrison, 50, might be considered one of those constituents. She is on disability and uses the city’s bus system to get from place to place. She said Detroit still needs money from Washington, but she doubts it will continue at the same levels under Trump.

Moments before boarding one of the new hybrid buses, Harrison said: “What we have right now is going to be it for a while.”

Source: Associated Press