Watson Emerging as Leader on Detroit’s Emergency Manager Appeal

Darren A. Nichols, The Detroit News, March 11, 2013

City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson doesn’t mince words when it comes to state involvement in Detroit’s affairs.

She’s called the consent agreement an “unprecedented right-wing gangster move.” She accused the state of wanting to turn Belle Isle into a “playground for the rich.” And the prospect of an emergency manager? “Constitutional assault.”

JoAnn Watson

JoAnn Watson

Watson—daughter of a Methodist minister, eldest of 10 children, lifelong civil rights activist—has become the public voice of Detroiters determined to hang on to self-rule as the city faces a prospect of a state takeover this week.

In a boardroom at the state Treasury building on Tuesday, the city gets its final chance to argue why Gov. Rick Snyder should not appoint an emergency manager to reverse Detroit’s financial crisis. {snip}

But for Watson, there’s no way the birthplace of the labor movement, the Nation of Islam, the Shrine of the Black Madonna and Motown will be taken over by the state on her watch.

“Someone said to me this week, they cannot believe that Detroit of all cities would be subject to this in-your-face constitutional assault,” Watson said during a recent rally. “We must hold true and recognize none of our freedoms were acted easily or comfortably. Nobody is going to come in and perpetuate a right-wing agenda.”

Watson, a Detroit native first elected in 2003, has encouraged city residents to fight the state’s plans. She sponsored a rally last summer on Belle Isle and packed a City Hall auditorium last week with a spirited anti-emergency manager crowd. Her activism has angered critics who say her racially charged rhetoric is misguided and does little to solve the city’s fiscal problems.

“To protest and calling people out for being racist or evil, that’s nice work, but it doesn’t change where you’re at financially,” political analyst Eric Foster said, referring to Watson and others who oppose state intervention.

{snip}

Before joining council, Watson opposed plans to eliminate residency requirements for city workers, drop Recorder’s Court and close mental health facilities. More recently, she’s championed a Marshall Plan to fix Detroit and a bailout by the federal government, arguing that no other city in America has been hit as hard by foreclosures and the auto industry collapse.

{snip}

Political expert Steve Hood calls Watson a tireless fighter who has stood up for Detroit residents. Still, he hopes her passion doesn’t get anyone hurt, pointing out protesters who snarled traffic on two freeways last week.

“In this case, I hope her advocacy does not incite something we cannot control,” Hood said. “People have the right to demonstration, but we don’t need them to be that crazy. We don’t need another black eye.”

{snip}

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