Interview with Khary Frazier Detroit Is Different
KF: Can you share your background and relationship to Detroit?
AA: I moved to Detroit in 1981. At that time I [had just] graduated from Georgetown University Law Center, and had been selected to be the first African American clerk by the Honorable Anna Diggs Taylor, district court judge for the Eastern District of Michigan. I moved to Detroit at a time when people were leaving in droves, but I saw great opportunity and hope here. My first apartment was right down the street on Calvert and LaSalle, 2419 Calvert. I could see Central High School out of my window.
KF: Tell us the story that led you to run for office.
AA: I started getting approached by a lot of people who said, we need someone to run for mayor who really understands the issues, who can really speak to the people, who has a broad base of knowledge and experience that can help people understand that what they’re getting is not what they deserve. So as I traveled around the city and talked to a lot of people, it became very clear that there needed to be someone who had experience, who has skill and who really had the courage necessary to tell it the way it is and to really bring the city on a different trajectory. So after much thought, prayer and deliberation, I came to the decision to run for mayor and offer myself up for leadership as a public servant.
KF: You talk about skillset. What is your understanding of the duties of the office?
AA: The office of mayor is probably the most important position in the city of Detroit. The mayor is tasked by the charter with broad responsibilities to ensure and uphold the public health, safety, and welfare of the people in the city. This means he’s supposed to use his talents and skills to uplift and improve the quality of life of all citizens in Detroit, rich, poor, Black, White. His responsibility is to make sure that there is a plan of action that encompasses improvement in the city, delivers key critical services, and also provides entrepreneurs the opportunity to compete for resources that the city has. We learned during this pandemic that if you’re not very aggressive in taking action, a lot of bad things will happen. The mayor is also responsible for protecting the public safety of the people who live in the city of Detroit. That means having the necessary police resources and fire resources. He also has responsibility for economic development to ensure that there’s an equitable distribution of economic benefits within the city. But those are just some of the key responsibilities that the mayor.
KF: What is your position on the Detroit Bill of Rights?
AA: I am very supportive of the Detroit Bill of Rights, which is an aspirational document that talks about what the city should strive for. For example, to have an equitable affordable housing policy, the city should strive for having water affordability. I believe the water is a human right. The city should also strive for an environment that allows people to reach their full potential, whether it’s by competing or bidding on city services, whether it’s having the opportunity to be employed by the city. The city has a responsibility to ensure the things that are necessary for people to be prosperous and live a good life. That’s what the Bill of Rights is — an aspirational document — and I clearly support that.
KF: Excellent! So how will you address the water shutoffs in Detroit?
AA: Well, first of all, there would be no water shut-offs under my administration. you know, having been former interim director of the water department, I actually worked very closely with Michigan Welfare Rights and other advocates to create an affordable water plan. We can move to an affordable water plan by simply looking at our rate structure. It’s better for everyone to pay a little something …versus having a few people pay a lot.
KF: Let’s talk about your position on the repayment of residents whose taxes have been over-assessed.
AA: People were overtaxed, conservatively, to the tune of $600 million. There has to be compensation for people who were overtaxed, and we can arrive at that by a very simple mechanism: For those people who actually own their homes, we can give them a property tax credit. For those people who lost their homes [due to overtaxation], I think this is an excellent opportunity to take some of the 40,000 houses that are in the land bank and provide these houses free of charge, and then give them property tax relief on the back end so that they can get into those homes, and make them meaningful places to live.
We also have to be very clear about our assessment issues in the city. People are still being over-assessed on the taxes, and part of my plan is to go back, revamp, and re-examine actual assessments. We know that people on the lower end of the [economic] spectrum tend to be over-assessed. So, we’ve got to begin to equalize that out and create a system of fairness so that everybody pays their fair share of taxes.
When you’ve had more than 150,000 people lose their homes as a result of tax foreclosure, we have to have a commitment to ensure that we get people back in their homes — as owners. The city should be setting up mechanisms either through using all their affordable housing dollars or forcing the banks in this city to lend to people who have homes that are less than $100,000. There are a lot of restrictions on how banks can lend at that level, and I think we need to be lobbying our people in the Legislature to make the necessary changes, to ensure that the structural racism element of lending in the city of Detroit is abandoned.
KF: How would you address some of the abandoned properties owned by the City, like a lot of the vacant schools?
AA: I would say adaptive reuse of some of these facilities — very excellent buildings, heavy brick structures that could be used for a lot of different things. We have an emerging industry in Detroit, with people doing podcasts and broadcasts out of their living rooms. These people can adaptively reuse these facilities, so they don’t become eyesores in the community. That also gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to bring children in [and show them] what type of things you can do. You don’t have to sit and play a video game all day. You actually can design a video game.
We also have a great need in our city for transitional housing. Why are we not using these buildings for transitional housing to help people get through life? We have a serious homeless problem, and we have a lot of vets who are out on the streets. We’ve got to begin to put these facilities to productive use. When you have the number of vacant buildings that we have in the city of Detroit, with entrepreneurs who are looking for space, this is an excellent opportunity to adapt the facility, either for commercial or residential purposes. It just makes sense to do that because the buildings are in the public domain.
KF: Let’s talk about your definition of police reform in Detroit. Also, what is your position on use of facial recognition technology?
AA: It’s [facial recognition technology] something that should be done away with here. We’re talking about a technology that has already been demonstrated to be inherently racist in its identification of blacks. So why would we invest more than $20 million in a technology that discriminates against the predominant population in the city of Detroit? It just doesn’t make sense to me. He’s talking about a $20 million commitment to technology when we should be making a $20 million commitment to people.
My view is that the department clearly needs to be reformed. When we have a situation where a very active police strategy is based on Greenlight, ShotSpotter, and facial recognition technology, all those are reactive strategies, not how we need to approach the issue.
We’ve got a streamlined department with a lot of specialty bureaus within the DPD, which probably need to be abolished. Things need to be consolidated. So first and foremost, we can get more officers on the ground; but more important than that, we also need a different kind of officer. And so to that end, I’ve advocated for the creation of what I call the community intervention specialist, a person who may be a psychologist, he may be a psychiatrist. He may be a gang intervention specialist. He may be a homeless advocate because a lot of the social issues in our city become criminal issues because people call the police. What I’m suggesting is that if we have a different model of how we approach and how we intervene, we can reduce the actual criminal element in our community because these people oftentimes are not criminals. They are people with issues.
I think we also have to begin to demilitarize a large portion of the police department. If the Department of Defense wants to get rid of all the heavy artillery and things, it’s not necessary to have that in the city of Detroit, especially if the police department has a clear and close relationship with the people who live in the community. So, one: advocating for demilitarizing the police department, and two, I’m talking about creating this new intervention model on how we go about our business; but three, we also have to be much more cognizant of the impact of crime and poverty and how the two interplay. I believe that we need to be much more proactive because we can identify the young people who are at risk for criminal activity. Why don’t we have prehabilitation? That’s a term I’ve come up with versus rehabilitation. Why are we not going out there approaching these young men and women saying, “Hey, there is an avenue, a pathway for you to really improve your life.
Over the last 10 years, we’ve spent close to $3 billion in fighting crime and crime fell off the roof. So we’ve got to do something different. We have to transform how we police. We have to transform the relationship of the police department to the community.
My community intervention approach also allows a way of getting young people into the police work, so they can see it’s not something that they should be ashamed of. It used to be a correct career path for a lot of our friends. They graduated from high school, they had a great job, and they were able to police and be respected within our community. We’ve got to bring back that level of pride for our office.
KF: What about Detroit neighborhoods?
AA: I want a neighborhood situational approach. When I travel to Rosedale Park, Grandmont, West Village, and some others, we see communities that are fairly stable. But we’re losing our middle-class income neighborhoods. First and foremost, we have to stabilize people in their homes. The greatest blight removal strategy is to make sure that people stay in their homes. My approach is dedicated to dealing with the neighborhoods that are the most challenged. How do we begin to stabilize them and then reconnect our resources to where they’re most needed? There’s been more than enough research done on neighborhoods. Now is the time to take all that information, to put it to action, and put the resources where they are needed. That strengthens the core structure of a neighborhood because these people are the ones that stayed. They never left. We’ve got to provide them with what they need. And then we use other dollars to enhance new construction to attract people back into these neighborhoods.
Middle-class people are being priced out of the city. We’ve lost so much generational wealth as a result of tax foreclosures. We need to begin to reverse that trend, to put housing ownership back in people’s hands so that they can build wealth for themselves.
If I’m elected mayor, we will see a much different trajectory in the city. First and foremost, the people who have been here, the people who stayed here, the people who live in these neighborhoods that have never gotten a dime, are going to see relief. You’re also talking about supporting the local businesses that exist in the city and never got a dime of any special program.
You will see a much more transparent government. Our [current] government operates in secrecy. There’s no pushback, there’s no questioning of anything. Part of the issue is to explain to people what is going on. I think you’ve got to have that close, personal relationship with the people in the neighborhoods.
I was raised by my mother, a good woman who never went to college, but instilled within me a public service ideology that you have to do the best for people. What you will find is a person who is really committed to the goodness of man. And I believe that we have to help people uplift and improve the quality of their lives.
KF: The last question sums it all up: Why should Detroiters vote for you?
AA: I’m about real change. There is a certain political order in this town. They have gotten very comfortable with themselves. They go to the same clubs. They hang out at the same restaurants and bars and they really aren’t about the business of doing the work. This is very, very, very hard work to do, but you have to be truly committed to a goal. And if that goal is to make Detroit the shining city on the hill, then it takes a lot of work to pull people together and to unite our community. We’re so fractured in our own city. Let’s get past all that.
We’ve got to heal ourselves. We’ve got to talk about how we heal ourselves from the pain of the things that have occurred over the last 50 years. We have to accept our responsibility for what’s necessary for us to do. When you vote for me, what you’re voting for is a guy who has a good heart and a pure spirit, and is really committed to helping people be the best that they can be. It was one thing my mother taught me. She says, always be the best you can be. Try the best you can, extend a hand back to help someone else. We don’t put the hand back anymore. We close the hand up in a fist. We’re trying to hold on to everything. Well, let’s share. We can all work together. We can be a great city if we truly believe in one another. And that’s what you’re getting from Anthony Adams.