CHICAGO — The Rev. Jesse Jackson came to Detroit Friday to join a group of local leaders to protest the state takeover of the struggling city and to announce a legal challenge to the state’s new emergency management law.
The Friday morning rally came days before bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr starts his new job Monday as Detroit’s new emergency manager. A new emergency management law for distressed local governments, meanwhile, takes effect Thursday.
Jackson’s appearance capped a week of growing criticism against the state takeover of the Motor City.
The Sugar Law Center, a national non-profit law firm, said last week it would file a lawsuit challenging the state’s new emergency management law and Orr’s appointment.
On Thursday, a pair of Detroit Congressmen sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to investigate the state’s EM law, and whether state control of local cities has any impact on federal funding. U.S. Reps. John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking it to investigate how emergency managers have managed their local governments.
The Detroit branch of the NAACP, United Auto Workers, AFSCME Council 25 and Council of Baptist Pastors also said last week that they would file a lawsuit to block Detroit’s takeover. The group said it would release more details of the lawsuit and future protests at a Saturday meeting.
Jackson Friday morning joined Detroit City Council member JoAnn Watson, Conyers, a Wayne County commissioner and local union leaders in a downtown Detroit rally. Jackson called for mass non-violent protest against Orr’s appointment.
“It’s time for a major mass civil action in the city of Detroit,” Jackson said, according to local reports. “Detroit cannot be reduced to a rummage sale.”
The state’s new EM law, Public Act 436, takes effect Thursday, nearly four months after Gov. Rick Snyder and the state Legislature passed it to replace the current law, Public Act 72. The new law broadens the state’s powers to control governments, and allows an EM to terminate or amend contracts. The new law also allows local officials to request to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, though the governor would still need to approve the request.
The bill was passed during a late 2012 lame-duck session.
There are currently nine local governments, including three school districts, with state-appointed emergency managers in Michigan.
Snyder appointed Orr as Detroit’s EM on March 14 after affirming that the city is in a fiscal crisis. In public statements since then, Orr has repeatedly said he wants all creditors, including bondholders, to negotiate to bring down the city’s outstanding long-term liabilities. He has also said that he hopes to avoid Chapter 9 but will go to bankruptcy court if he can’t reach new agreements with the city’s creditors.