“He has taken on this job in a straightforward fashion,” Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who appointed Orr, said in an interview. “This is not about race. Of course, you always need to be sensitive to racial issues. But he has very much approached the job from a factual basis to say, ‘Here are the problems and here are the logical paths to solve those problems.’ ”
Among Orr’s earliest actions as emergency manager was to restore the pay and benefits that had been slashed for Detroit city officials. Then he met with city leaders to hear their concerns, and ideas, making it clear that he did not see himself as a potentate. The approach has earned him grudging support.
“I did not want an emergency manager in Detroit from the beginning,” said Detroit City Councilman Andre L. Spivey. “But if we had to receive someone, I think Kevyn has been an excellent choice. He is a very smart guy who knows what he is doing and I think he has a genuine interest in helping the city of Detroit.”
His work is also being applauded by some of the city’s biggest economic boosters, who say Orr is finally confronting its dizzying problems.
Matthew P. Cullen, president and chief executive of Rock Ventures, a company that has invested heavily in downtown Detroit, has met with Orr on several occasions.
“He is very pragmatic, very factual, but also empathetic,” Cullen said. “I think the people in the city get that and they feel that.”
Orr’s approach to the monumental task he faces in Detroit does not surprise his former colleagues at the Washington office of Jones Day, where he worked from 2001 until resigning earlier this year.
“Kevyn is as impressive an individual as you will ever come across,” said Gregory M. Shumaker, the partner in charge of the Jones Day 250-person Washington office. “He is incredibly smart, wonderfully engaging. And he obviously has tremendous integrity, as I think he has shown over these past months in Detroit.”
Orr’s first job after graduating law school in 1983 was with a Miami firm now known as Stearns Weaver Miller, where he was mostly a litigator and made partner. In 1991, he moved to the deeper legal waters of Washington, to work for Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., before later transferring to the Resolution Trust Corp., the government entity established to quell the savings and loan crisis. His duties there included serving as the agency’s top lawyer for the Whitewater investigation related to the failure of the Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, in Little Rock, Ark. For years, allegations related to Whitewater dogged former president Bill Clinton, who was never implicated in any wrongdoing.