Fast forward to last night’s VFA mixer. As Raymond and I munched on our sandwiches and almond joy milkshakes (10/10 would recommend, by the way), Raymond asked a quick question to his mentor Mark about what his thoughts on Dan Gilbert and Quicken Loans were. Up until that point, I had only ever heard positive – extremely positive – things about Quicken Loans – about how they had provided so many new jobs in Detroit and how they brought a new energy to Detroit’s downtown area. But to my surprise, Mark had a pretty different take. He acknowledged that Quicken Loans was doing extraordinary things for Detroit, but he brought up an interesting point – that Quicken Loans (and Dan Gilbert, by extension) was basically the sole power in Detroit’s economy. Yes, Dan Gilbert is changing Detroit for the better, but how much is too much?
Today, I found an article from the Detroit Free Press about a court decision in East Detroit. A judge blocked Gary Jensen, who was set to take over 4 Eastpoint schools as CEO, from starting his job. Furthermore, the people of the district filed – and was granted – a restraining order against Jensen. After reading about this news, I was immediately reminded of my conversation about Quicken Loans last night.
This argument about small groups of individuals or single individuals dominating an industry or governmental district is not a new one, and not one that I haven’t already thought about, but in the context of Detroit, I don’t feel like I am well educated enough or integrated enough within Detroit to take one side over the other. On one hand, I believe in a democracy/republic, the people have a fundamental right to have their voices represented. It is very undemocratic to have a single person take over 4 schools, and along those lines, to have a single person take over an entire economy. On the other hand, Detroit really needs help (even still – the unemployment rate in Detroit is actually still on the rise, as Raymond and I discovered from our research for TechTown), and who’s to stop the people who can help it from doing so?