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Detroit Resurrected: To Bankruptcy and Back 1st Edition
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“One of our most talented young reporters, Nathan Bomey goes behind the scenes to offer a dramatic account of the debates, deliberation, and deal-making that brought Detroit out of its unprecedented bankruptcy. Bomey brings a human eye to the cold realities of municipal finance and urban politics, through well-drawn portraits of the investors, pensioners, union leaders, politicians, philanthropists, lawyers, and judges at the heart of the case.” (Thomas J. Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit)
“No one covered Detroit’s historic municipal bankruptcy more closely than former Detroit Free Press reporter Nathan Bomey. And his unpacking of it here is superlative―not only the sordid history and mechanics of how and why Detroit went broke, but also how it got through court-supervised restructuring and emerged in a position to do better by its residents. With deep reporting and incisive insights, Bomey takes readers inside the process in a way only he could. If you care about cities―past, present, or future―Detroit Resurrected is a must-read.” (Stephen Henderson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, Detroit Free Press)
“Bomey does a superb job of laying out the origins and depths of Detroit’s fiscal and political woes. He has done prodigious research into archives and court documents, interviewed all the players, and woven a tangled mass of facts into a narrative that reads like a thriller.” (Bill Morris - The Millions)
“As other cities flirt with a similar financial fate, Bomey’s intricate saga of how Detroit walked back from the brink of destruction provides an unrivaled glimpse into what went wrong and an unflinching evaluation of what it takes to overcome detrimental political shenanigans and dubious financial practices. ... Bomey’s insider account ... entertains with its fly-on-the-wall intimacy and keen observations.” (Booklist)
“The Motor City’s recent fiscal implosion sparks an unlikely outbreak of civic-mindedness in this stirring saga. … Bomey deftly elucidates the intricacies of law and finance that shaped the case while painting colorful profiles of the principals and their sharp-tongued, profane wrangling (and occasional fits of conscience). Scrupulously fair to all parties and their grievances, Bomey reveals that behind the crass bean counting stood a fractious community pulling together to value and rescue a long-neglected city.” (Publisher's Weekly)
“Well-paced and highly readable. … It’s an important subject, since the tale of Detroit’s financial woes can serve as a case study on how other cities can deal with economic transition. ... An engaging reconstruction of Detroit’s financial crisis and the broader implications of its comeback for other American cities.” (Kirkus Reviews)
About the Author
Nathan Bomey, a journalist at USA Today, was the lead reporter on Detroit’s bankruptcy and General Motors for the Detroit Free Press. He lives in the Washington, DC, area.
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(An aside: for the prim, I will warn there’s a lot of “NYC language” coming from particular players. It’s not Games-of-Thrones bad; after all, nobody gets killed (SPOILER ALERT!), no sexy romps, and definitely a dearth of direwolves. But yes, plenty of strong opinions uttered using vulgarities.)
It was so refreshing to see the narrative played out where there are no real villains except some hazy groups (like a hapless City Council) and the definitely-named Kwame Kilpatrick. But he’s off-stage by the beginning of the book, being bundled off to federal prison, along with some of his cronies. But even the biggest losers in the deal, bond insurers FGIC and Syncora, get their say. They’re not made out to be eeeeevil Wall Street players, but players representing their own interests and making their own claims for fairness. The only Detroit institution leaving unscathed in the deal was the art museum, DIA. One gets to hear of the sense of betrayal by all the players, within and without Detroit, without their particular pain being mocked.
The book has plenty of conflict, surprising alliances, and a few interesting twists at the end (which cleared up some mysteries to me at the time.) I thought the pacing was really well-done, and Bomey did a good job of explaining salient technical points, like present value, relatively quickly and enough detail for the lay reader to understand. Excellent book for the general public. It will also be a great study for law and business schools for people learning about negotiation in high stakes situations that seem like zero sum.
If Bomey takes this level of detail and even-handedness to all his journalistic work, as well as the storytelling ability, he will go far in journalism.
For Bomey, the blame for the bankruptcy belongs squarely on the corrupt shoulders of Kwame Kilpatrick and his fellows along with the banks who put together those likely illegal interest rate swaps (COPS). I was born in Detroit and lived there until we left for good in 1963. It was a much nicer, safer, and richer city in those years. Something happened to cause the riots in 1967 and the city began its death spiral after than point. This author wants to let Coleman Young off the hook because Coleman tried to keep a fiscally sound city (at least compared to Kilpatrick). But those of us who lived there know better and how the culture of Coleman Young accelerated (not slowed) the decay of Detroit.
The great problem of Detroit, in my view, was that the city lost 2/3rds of its population and even more of its businesses and had no revenue base. But it struggled mightily to keep its city government and school system as it was for a city of 2 million. In part, this is understandable because it is the city jobs that provided middle class living within the city. But it could not afford all those jobs. And the unions, and their number and layout was positively Byzantine, fought every possible move towards responsible downsizing.
But that is not the point of this book. This book is about the bankruptcy and the new Detroit rising from the ashes of the bankruptcy of the old Detroit. The author does a marvelous job in explaining how the Grand Bargain of the way the private Foundations, the State Government, the Big Corporations of Michigan, and the courts came together to save the DIA by helping the pensioners not lose very much, if anything, of their retirements. The banks and investment firms and their insurers had to be bullied and cowed into submission because this really did violate bankruptcy law as far as priority of bondholders versus the retirees. But the banks and investment firms had the problem that the deals they were losing nearly everything on may well have been illegal and if they were found to be so in court, it could get a LOT worse for them than the bad deal they got.
You will get to know the Judge Rhodes, Kevin Orr, and many of the other big players in the bankruptcy. Are they all noble and good? No. they are people just trying to muddle through a disaster. But I think they accomplished something good from something that could have ended up so much worse.
The book, however, is reporting, not analysis. So if, like me, you would like are more forensic analysis of the bankruptcy and the city finances as it lurched from a bad situation into disaster and out again, this isn’t that. But it is a great story and told well in a very readable way.
Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Saline, MI
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a warning for other cities and states that are in debtRead more