Big, bad, battered Detroit, the city that gave us the Motown sound, Gordy Howe, Stroh's beer and the Edsel, heaved a giant sigh of relief today -- too soon.
Only hours after city workers voted to end a 12-day strike, circulation workers at the Detroit Free Press, one of the city's two major newspapers, shut down the paper, possibly for the entire week of the Republican National Convention, which begins Monday.
The shutdown by the Teamsters union came after the paper had spent $2 million and 14 months preparing a convention kickoff edition that may never be distributed. (Details on Page A17.)
The Free Press strike dashed the euphoria that had blossomed with the settlement this morning of the city workers strike. Another catastrophe had passed, another blemish on the city's face erased. Garbage would be picked up. Buses would roll during the Republican convention. One almost expected to hear trumpets and hosannas.
All week Detroit has acted like a cranky old father who has found out his unmarried daughter is six months pregnant. He decides there must be a shotgun wedding, a marriage of necessity.
But the old man is determined that his beloved daughter will have the best wedding money can buy, hell or be damned. He has rented the best hall in town, decked it out in fine bunting, and sent out invitations to all his neighbors, proud and embarrased at the same time.
So it is with Detroit and the Republican convention.
The city just isn't what everyone hoped it would be this year. The auto industry is in a shambles, giving the city a flat tire on the way to its renaissance. One worker in five is out of a job. The big Goodyear tote board that flashes the number of cars produced this year seems permanently stuck on 3,616,726.
But everyone is trying not to notice. For one thing, Detroit, the old "Murder City," isn't like Mississippi Republican Clarke Reed thought. When the GOP was debating where to take their convention, he is the guy who said, "I hear the convention center is only 10 minutes' walk from all the big hotels. . . . Trouble is, nobody has ever made it alive."
The city has freshened its face. Highway potholes are filled. New trees and petunias have been planted on Hart Plaza beside the convention center. Downtown storefronts have been renovated.
Detroit's Democratic power structure has embraced the Republican Party like some long-lost cousin. "Detroit Loves a Party" signs are all over the place. Every few hours another new event: boat rides, concerts, receptions, parties, fireworks, marching bands. The whole works. A big gala at the Renaissance Plaza Hotel Friday night attracted 15,000 people. Thousands more gathered for "A Taste of Detroit" party with free food from 60 local eateries.
The city workers' strike was an ugly mark on the record, a reminder that everything wasn't well in Renaissance City. In fact, the city is in desperate financial straits. It is facing a $70 million deficit; 400 police officers are scheduled to be laid off soon. When 9,000 city workers went on strike 12 days ago, Gov. William G. Milliken said it was "imperative this strike be resolved quickly."
"Detroit's worldwide image and its reputation as a convention center will be seriously damaged by the image of growing mounds of trash shown nightly on the television screens of the world," he said.
To understand why that strike went on as long as it did a little reuminating on Detroit's personality and mayor is helpful. If the city were a man, he would be a beer-drinking brute of a guy. He'd be a factory worker (an auto worker likely, although the city also makes more toilet seats than any other place in the country), a Democrat and a union member who delights in thumbing his nose at the fuzzy heads who live in the East. He'd drive a big Ford LTD with all the trimmings and have a hard time making payments.
Coleman Young comes amazingly close to fitting that description. Detroiters like him because he is so much like they are: flashy, tough and no-nonsense, a little rough at the edges. He played a game of chicken with the city strikers and won.
"Our problem is that the city is broke," he told a news conference Thursday. "There is no question we are hurting" (because of the strike), but "if you employ a cook and the cook quit, you do your own cooking."
The city strike ended just as the delegations from around the country and a host of dignitaries arrived at Metro Airport, led by former president Gerald R. Ford, Michigan Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, the GOP keynoter, and Sen. Richard G. Lugar, a vice president contender.
The city strikers, represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employers, hedged, shrugged their shoulders, and then ended up today accepting a pact that amounts to about a 7 percent increase -- far less than they originally had demanded.
"The mayor played hardball in this particular set of negotiations," said Lloyd Simpson, AFSCME's chief negotiator.
Some bus drivers will be back on the job by Sunday, Young said. Garbage pickups are to resume Monday. By national standards, the settlement package was a good one. But in the high-wage settlement world of Detroit union politics, it was small potatoes.
Detroit unions are spoiled, accustomed to the high settlements of the United Auto Workers. Police officers here make as much as $27,000 a year. City workers are the envy of those elsewhere.
During World War II, southerners -- black and white -- came to the Motor City as a place where those with little formal education could get a job on an auto assembly plant line and make big money. The powerful UAW would take care of you, and then give you a fat retirement check with which to move to Florida (UAW pensioners in Florida actually outnumber palm trees).
Detroit is a city of neighborhoods. Until recently, there was no real downtown where people went at night to drink and party. Detroiters pack the freeways in the morning, driving into the city to work. They leave for their suburbs and neighborhoods at night.
Neighborhoods are divided along well-defined racial lines: blacks live in the inner city, the poles in Hamtramck, the Jews in Southfield, the nouveau riche in Bloomfield Hills, the old money in Grosse Points. The people who live in the various neighborhoods make little secret of their dislike for their ethnic and racial rivals, but they sit together in the bleachers at Tigers' games, even when the "Tigers" are in the American League cellar.
Understandably, they speak in many voices about the Republicans and their convention this summer. Listen for a moment to a few of them:
Nick Feldman, 74, retired. He was wearing a sign across his chest today in front of Cobo Hall that said: "A Democrat thanks the Republicans for coming to Detroit."
"If Detroit ever needed a shot in the arm it needs it now. I've been a Democrat and a UAW member all my life. But this is the first year I've ever been an undecided voter. I just might pull the Republican lever this time. It'll be hard, but I like Reagan.I liked his movies. We sort of grew up together."
Pat Halley, 29, taxi driver. He saw Feldan's sign and angrily snapped:
"What are you thanking the GOP for? What have they done for you? I live in the city. I think it's ridiculous all the people sucking up to the Republicans. It's an embarrassment to me. The only people making any money out of this are the big hotel owners. The city is providing 150 free buses for the delegates. Us cabdrivers aren't getting nothing. That's why they threw all those parties for cabdrivers, to get them drunk so they don't complain."
Larry Rudnick, bartender at the Motor City Bar, Restaurant and Motor Lanes in suburban Detroit, next to a closed Chrysler plant. It is midafternoon, and the place is empty.
"During lunch hours, they used to line up to get in," Rudnick said. "But Chrysler is just killing everything. Business is dead now. The restaurant, they had to close that down." He looked around the near-empty bowling alley, and added "This is crowded. We're lucky to get three people in here now."
Rudnick said his father, Mike, was laid off from the Chrysler plant last year, and his mother, Carol, was laid off from a car parts manufacturing company just a few months after that. His best friend, he said, was laid off from a trucking firm, "and he got a wife and five kids to feed."
But Rudnick, like the typical Detroiter, takes all the hard knocks in stride, and with a certain bravado easterners don't understand. "It'll be looking up," he said. "We'll have a war soon, and then things will get better."