Mackinac Island, MI. - The financial survival of Detroit is one of the major focal points of the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual Policy Conference on Mackinac Island. And a very candid, one-on-one conversation I had with former Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony "TonY" Williams is a must see for those concerned about Detroit's future. Williams was chief executive of our nation's capital from 1999 - 2007. Before he was drafted to be mayor, he moved the district from a $355 deficit to a $185 surplus. Construction cranes dot the D.C. streets because of agreements he hammered out with city government, unions, Congress, and the business community.
A few days ago, Chamber President & CEO Sandy Baruah told me that the fiscal health of Detroit is a core issue for his organization and the State of Michigan. No one would agree with him more than Tony Williams. He clearly understands what Detroit is facing under a financial consent agreement. And he said getting Detroit back on its feet will take collaboration and teamwork from everyone that has a stake in America's auto capital. It will also take energetic and creative leadership. Those appointed to the financial review team cannot and should not be concerned about the popularity - or lack thereof - of the extremely painful decisions they will have to make.
Williams is a straight shooter who was educated at some of America's best Ivy League universities. His extensive financial background taught him how to balance budgets with the best of them. But his frankness in answering my questions on emergency financial managers, race, and politics was refreshing and eye-opening. People who are concerned about Detroit's longevity and vitality would be wise do watch this in-depth interview in an upcoming edition of Spotlight on the News from the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. It's not for the faint of heart but there are good lessons to be learned from the city Mayor Tony Williams led for two terms.