Your Detroit reading list, Mr. President

Memo to President Barack Obama:

The City of Detroit is 'Ground Zero' in the campaign to rebuild America.

At least that's what the Detroit Free Press says as they press for your commitment to attend a June summit dedicated to accelerating the nation's economic transition.

I hope you consider the invitation. Detroit is down but likely not out. And if we can solve the failing schools, high taxes, hatred and segregation, depopulation, political corruption and other fundamental challenges that plague that city, we surely can solve any problem in the Union.

So since you seem to be a working man - Blackberry in pocket, newspaper under arm and briefcase in hand - I've gathered here a small collection of recent writings on Detroit - the good, the bad and the possible.

Perhaps you'll find time for reading on the short flight to Michigan from D.C.

The City Where the Sirens Never Sleep by Matt Labash, The Weekly Standard

Detroiters Carry on Amid All the Hardship by Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press (Reprinted from SI)

If We Rebuilt War-Torn Europe...Why Not Detroit by Larry Gabriel, Metro Times

New Detroit: A Radical Vision of the World's Greenest Big City by Craig Ruff, Dome Magazine

Hey Mitch: Detroit Primed to Play More than Defense by Jim Boyle, Model D

Respectfully submitted,

Andy Guy

A political peak, but many valleys for the Great Lakes

By Andy Guy

Despite the election of former Illinois Senator Barack Obama as President of the United States, the crisis of leadership that plagues America's heartland seems to be deepening.

Because as the nation prepares to inaugurate the man from Chicago, the State of Illinois is preparing to impeach the pay-to-play governor Rod Blagojevich.

Al Franken and Norm Coleman continue a vicious fight over a Minnesota Senate seat.

And now Gary Becker, the soon-to-be-former mayor of Racine, WI, faces as many as 114 years in prison for being a pervert.

Didn't see that one coming. I interviewed Mayor Becker several times during my years on the Great Lakes beat, and covered his speeches in Chicago and Grand Rapids, MI and his testimony in Washington, D.C.

Mayor Becker wasn't the most articulate spokesperson. But he was (still is?) a strong advocate for reasoned policies to protect the health of the Great Lakes. And the movement to restore and sustain the Great Lakes is weaker if his level of leadership on the issue is not replaced.

Becker is just the latest rising Great Lakes leader to get himself caught up in scandal.

In 2008, we saw former NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer fall from power for a call girl.

We saw the defiant and deceptive spectacle of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatick trying to cover up corruption and an affair.

We even watched with embarrassment as Michigan State Representative Kevin Greene stumbled and mumbled in front of a state trooper with puke on his sweatshirt.

So the credibility of Great Lakes politics has experienced far too many lows recently, at a time when visionary and dedicated leaders with integrity are perhaps more urgently needed now than at any other time in regional history.

But the inauguration of President Barack Obama is a tremendous high. Hopefully we continue to raise the bar.

And the 2009 Word of the Year is...

Barack Obama used the term in a speech today. So I now believe it's true: "transform" is an early front-runner for 2009 Word of the Year.

Sure Merriam-Webster just named "bailout" the 2008 WOTY.

And "shovel-ready" might seem the early favorite for most likely to succeed in 2009.

But America now stands in the afterglow of a remarkable presidential election in which perhaps the most diverse parade of citizens in the history of the nation united to vote for "change."

And now the word "transform," a close but more sophisticated linguistic cousin, is frequently popping up in editorials, political speeches and other dimensions of the public dialogue.

That observation is increasingly obvious across the greater Great Lakes, a region that's struggled to "transform" its Rust Belt reputation and purpose for decades.

Michigan Lt. Gov John Cherry earlier this week called for $3 billion in federal funds to restore the Great Lakes saying the investment would "transform" Michigan's economy and "lay the foundation for a blue water economy."

Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer recently editorialized that Obama's proposed stimulus funding "should be spent on transformative projects," like converting gas stations to hydrogen hubs.

Republicans are using it too. Governor Tim Pawlenty, for example, touted the Teacher Transformation Act in his 2009 State of the State as a strategy "to make Minnesota the nation's leader in teacher preparation and training."

What's more, the word (and all the frames and ideas it triggers) is already firmly in the presidential playbook.

After touring a plant in metro Cleveland that manufactures bolts for everything from the Statue of Liberty to wind turbines, Barack Obama praised the company for creating jobs that "transform" our economy.

He also pledged that his American Recover and Reinvestment Act would strive to do the same. In fact, that encouraging family of "Re" words - recover, reinvest, restore, renew, rebuild, revitalize - are a good bet to compete for Word of the Year honors.

Alas "transform" might prove too familiar to rev up the linguistic search engines that track the candidates at Merriam-Webster unlike past WOTY winners like "bailout," "facebook" or "google." But it's a word I suspect we're going to hear more and more of. Unless something big changes....errr transforms.

2009: The Year of the Cuyahoga

"Molten sparks from a passing rail car set fire to oil- and chemical-soaked debris floating on the Cuyahoga (River) on June 22, 1969," reporter Michael Scott reminds us in yesterday's Cleveland Plain Dealer, and ultimately spurred passage of the Clean Water Act and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Forty years later, the river is still designated one of the most degraded waterways in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

But fish counts are rising and the Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization has declared 2009 the Year of the River.

I wonder, what's the update on Jim White's innovative green bulkhead project?

Picture courtesy of Cleveland Press Collection at Cleveland State University Library.