In 2011, Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed into law Public Act 4, which gave the state the power to place cash-strapped cities and school districts under the control of state-appointed emergency managers. In 2012, Michigan voters overturned that law. But in 2013, Snyder signed a barely revised version of the emergency manager law—and then used it to take over Detroit.
So in the fall of 2013, Detroit voters went to the polls to elect a new mayor and City Council, but it didn’t matter. The powers of the mayor and City Council have effectively been suspended. Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, appointed by Snyder, has all the power and then some. A Democratic city that elected Democratic leaders is now controlled by the appointee of a Republican governor.
Or, to put it differently, Detroit—a majority African-American city—is now controlled by a governor elected by a majority of white voters in the state. It really doesn’t matter that Kevyn Orr, the state-appointed emergency manager, is black, nor that Mike Duggan, Detroit’s mayor, is white. What matters is that half of the state’s black population lives in Detroit. So through the state takeover, “half of black Michiganders have essentially lost the right to vote,” says Ife Kilimanjaro, co-director of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council.