Could Detroit really elect an openly gay City Council president?


So last week we had our City Council primary election (with only a 15 percent voter turnout, but then what else is new in this town?) and the far-and-away highest vote getter was former FOX News celebrity Charles Pugh, who had been one of the city’s most popular local newscasters for years. Anyone who has ever watched Pugh do his broadcast should have no problem seeing where that popularity comes from. The guy is extremely likable as well as being equally good at his job.

Well, what used to be his job, anyway.

In Detroit, it’s never a surprise to see the big-name celebrity walking away with the lion’s share of votes in any political race. That’s how we ended up with Motown legend Martha Reeves, the ‘brilliant’ City Council representative who told a London newspaper during a recent musical tour overseas that being a councilperson was only her part-time job. Being a professional Used To Be is apparently where her heart really lies. So now that she has been escorted to the exit sign by the voters this time around, she can be rid of that pesky council job and we can (thankfully) be rid of her simple-minded ass.

Can gay make it all the way?

Can gay make it all the way?

Charles Pugh also benefited mightily from his celebrity status, no doubt about it. It could easily be argued that without that high name recognition he wouldn’t have scored anywhere near that high in the polls and may not have even made the top nine. He damned sure wouldn’t have come in first place, and I’m sure even he knows this.

But what’s eye-opening about Pugh’s strong showing, even given the typically abysmal voter turnout, is that he scored so high as an openly gay candidate in a city that was practically built on brawn and macho, and also a city where the black church holds considerable influence. And the black church is no friend to gays, believe that.

Except that Pugh got the endorsement of the Council of Baptist Pastors.

And he got this in an overly crowded field that included some extremely qualified competitors, some of whom (I’m not mentioning names) I would have been fairly certain would have been more likely to get that nod. So I don’t know, just speaking plainly now, if that means maybe Detroit has taken such a string of body blows over the past years that normally hot-button issues like sexual orientation don’t even factor in any more (shades of Obama’s victory made possible by a whipped and tired America), or does it mean something else altogether?

I’m not quite sure what. I do know that a friend of mine who has a pretty good finger on the pulse of things suggested that, come November, Pugh most likely will no longer be the front-runner. He’ll almost certainly make the cut to get elected to council, but he won’t be the top vote-getter and therefore won’t be council president.

While I would be less comfortable with  Pugh council presidency than with a council led by others I could name, that’s because I feel Pugh still needs to bone up significantly on the issues. He’s  a very smart guy, a capable guy, and a likable guy, but he’s not a guy ready to lead the council just yet. A life in journalism just isn’t enough, I don’t care how many corners of the city you’ve reported on.

But the reason I got from my friend about why he won’t snag the top spot is because, well, he’s gay. And between now and November the voters will be more focused because they only have 18 candidates to focus on for the November General Election as opposed to the 167 we had to wade through for the primary.  The issue of Pugh’s sexual orientation may  well get shoved out front and center in a very ugly way for two reasons:

1) This is Detroit where the phrase ‘ugly politics’ is an oxymoron

2) Pugh is the front-runner, and the front runner always attracts the most attacks

I sincerely hope my friend is wrong. Not that Pugh will not grab the presidency because, as I said, I don’t think he’s ready for that. And I think if he does manage to get it then it’s yet another political position earned by celebrity and not necessarily by merit in this city at a time when we need only the most qualified folks in those most critical positions.

But as strongly as I’m opposed to presidency by celebrity, I am far more opposed to any campaign that would drag Pugh down because the man is gay. That is no reason whatsoever and that strategy, if it happens, would sicken me. And I would hope that as many of us as possible would rise up immediately and shout that shit down before it even gets traction.

I’ve just got to believe we’re better than that.

SHAMELESS PLUG: Read my wife’s blog @ The “D” Spot Redeux


~ by Keith A. Owens on August 10, 2009.

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