DETROIT-If new Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick expects to fulfill his campaign pledge to improve city services while also cutting costs, he's going to have to tangle with some pretty tough customers: the city's powerful unions, who resist privatization because they fear the loss of union dues and erosion of their bargaining clout.
It seems well nigh impossible for Kilpatrick to fulfill his promise unless he abandons former Mayor Dennis Archer's longstanding pledge not to privatize city services. In a recent Detroit News article examining the mayor's options, reporter Cameron McWhirter wrote that Archer's pledge restricted his ability to change city government in ways that were needed. On the other hand, Archer came about as close as he could to breaking his pledge, without actually doing so. He set up public-private partnerships such as the Detroit Institute for the Arts. He got Detroit's streets plowed following the blizzard of 1999 by indirect privatization-getting the Department of Public Works to hire private contractors. And he tried unsuccessfully to spin off costly departments onto other governments as well as outright divestiture, for example, trying to sell the century-old Public Lighting Department, although he couldn't find a buyer.
Kilpatrick could consider all of these options, as well as setting up competition between city workers and private companies for tasks such as garbage pickup or street repair. Al Garret, president of the city's largest union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 25, told McWhirter he would be willing to entertain such an idea for Detroit.