L-R: Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Kevyn Orr, Gov. Snyder - photo from Detroit Free Press
DETROIT (USA TODAY) - City of Detroit retirees will demand an apology Monday from Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr for a quote attributed to him calling Detroit "dumb, lazy, happy and rich" in a Wall Street Journal article.
To put the comment in context, it came near the end of a flattering profile by Allysia Finley, a journal editorial writer, of Orr, who was chosen by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in March to fix the city's financial crisis in an 18-month term.
The city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection on July 18.
Here is the paragraph in the Wall Street Journal article that triggered reaction from other journalists and citizens almost immediately:
Much of Detroit's dysfunction is also due to simple complacency. "For a long time the city was dumb, lazy, happy and rich," he explains. "Detroit has been the center of more change in the 20th century than I dare say virtually any other city, but that wealth allowed us to have a covenant (that held) if you had an eighth grade education, you'll get 30 years of a good job and a pension and great health care, but you don't have to worry about what's going to come."
One of the first reactions came from Detroit native Ron Fournier, former Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press who now is editorial director of National Journal. Detroit is "a city he still doesn't get," Fournier tweeted to 21,500 followers, citing the "dumb, lazy, happy and rich" comment.
Forbes.com contributor and veteran auto industry journalist Micheline Maynard tweeted: "The top lawyers in the field show a courtesy and politesse about the people with whom they are negotiating. And certainly, about the people whom they represent."
In a longer post on Forbes.com, a publication not known for its hostility to business leaders, Maynard also challenged the accuracy or lack of specifics in Orr's use of "dumb, lazy, happy and rich."
"It is hard to know what era - or whom - Orr is talking about, when he says, 'dumb, lazy, happy and rich' - a phrase that is now certain to follow him throughout the rest of his 15-month tenure. As far back as Mayor Jerome P. Cavanagh in the 1960s, Detroit officials were focused about the city's future, trying to attract ventures like the Olympic Games to lift the world's impression.
"The years since the 1967 riots cannot in any way be described as happy ones for the Motor City, save for a brief respite in the 1990s when the American auto industry was booming ...," Maynard continued. "One has to infer from Orr's comments that he may be speaking of Detroit's unions, who opposed the bankruptcy filing and are challenging the city in court."
Orr spokesman Bill Nowling responded to Maynard with this comment: "I believe Kevyn Orr was speaking about the attitude of the body politic of the city of Detroit, not Detroiters themselves. And, I am pretty sure that history, both recent and ancient, bears out such a comment. For someone who grew up in the segregated south, as Kevyn did, Detroit was held up for generations to African Americans and others looking for a way out of poverty and injustice."