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Mich. Suburb Tries to Woo GM to Leave Detroit

Warren Major Jim Fouts invoked a Buy-American-car rule for city workers.
Warren Major Jim Fouts invoked a Buy-American-car rule for city workers. (By David Kilkenney -- Via Detroit Free Press)

"At this time, the mayor has not been approached by GM," said Robert Warfield, the mayor's spokesman. If the automaker were to seriously consider a move "the mayor would do everything in his power to convince GM to stay in the city of Detroit. GM is a mainstay of the city of Detroit."

Fouts is popular in Warren, even if he has a reputation for being a bit eccentric.

He recently made headlines in local newspapers for insisting that he pay a $100 fine for exceeding the speed limit by five miles per hour, and collect two points on his license, after a police officer let him go with just a warning.

A government and psychology teacher at a local high school for 25 years, he beat his incumbent opponent by a landslide almost two years ago after raising just $37,000. He keeps about a dozen pictures of his heroes -- Frank Sinatra and president Harry Truman in his office.

Like Truman, Fouts runs a frugal government; he eliminated the city's Christmas fireworks show and refused to hire a Santa Claus, asking for volunteers instead. He sharply criticizes the gleaming, glassy City Hall on the north side of town built before he was mayor and is quick to show visitors the poorer, south side where he is working to eliminate blight. Warren has established a special inspection program to hand out tickets for overgrown yards, broken windows and peeling paint on houses.

At his rambler home on a neat, quiet street, just a few miles from the GM Tech Center, he apologized to a reporter for the smell of fish, saying it -- and popcorn -- are the staples of his daily diet. The son of a Dodge truck line worker, never married, Fouts doesn't like to give his age because he says he tends to date younger women. He is an insomniac and exercises twice a day -- walking four to six miles around town and working out on an elliptical trainer in his living room, next to the dining room table that he's turned into a desk, covered with papers and a computer. (One recent warm, spring evening he walked six miles to a dinner appointment in a pinstriped suit and dress shoes.)

As he showed a reporter around town, Fouts talked about his hopes of building a new $5.9 million community center, police station and library in the area.

"I don't need money for new houses," Fouts said. "I need a place that shows people we're putting money into the run-down, worn-out part of our city."

The mayor, who drives a $30,000 black Chrysler Charger, recently instituted a buy-American-car rule for city employees -- a move that has not gone over particularly well with the workers. But while waiting for a light to turn green, a car pulled up next to Fouts, and the driver rolled down his window: "Nice car, mayor," he shouted.

"It's all about 'Buy American,' " Fouts yelled back.

Fouts said he worries that if GM files for bankruptcy protection, it will hit his auto-dependent town hard. GM is his number one taxpayer, bringing in $8 million a year, followed by Chrysler, which pays $4 million. Getting GM's headquarters, Fouts said, would boost Warren's status and prestige and bring in new people who might buy up the mini-McMansions in neighborhoods abandoned by bankrupt developers.

Will it happen? He's not sure.

"It makes sense to me," he said. But, he cautioned, "the political structure is very uptight about this. Will the political prevail over basic sense? I don't know. I'm going to do everything I can."

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