Detroit City Council has always been a sometimes colorful, even entertaining bunch, at least in recent decades. We can’t comment on what the council was like in 1824 when it was first established as the legislative body of the city, but maybe it was sometimes colorful and entertaining then, too.
This is not to in any way suggest that Detroit City Council does not get the job done because it (usually) does. But there have been some “events” that had little, if anything, to do with taking care of city business.
Some of it was as funny as what might be seen on a good sitcom.
Remember the skirmishes between Kay Everett — “the hat lady” — and Sharon McPhail?
At one point during a typically stormy confrontation, Everett slammed her hand on the table and warned her nemesis to back off, reminding McPhail that she (Everett) was “from the east side.”
Unfazed and full of sarcasm, McPhail, complete with hand gestures, said, “Ooooo…I’m scared!”
Speaking of McPhail, also not to be forgotten is the time she made the accusation that someone in the Kilpatrick administration had booby-trapped her chair.
Another tempestuous relationship was between Clyde Cleveland and Ken Cockrel Sr., two fiery personalities. On at least one occasion, as widely reported, the conflict turned physical, with one councilman having the other in a headlock.
Many years later, the unpopular Councilwoman Monica Conyers who got elected — president pro tem! — based almost purely on the tremendous value of her last name, called Ken Cockrel Jr. “Shrek.”
Mayor Coleman Young’s tough manner was as well known as his mastery of cuss words (yet no one was more personable). It was said that he more or less ran roughshod over city council, with some members essentially being “rubber stamps.”
But Councilwoman Maryann Mahaffey was not afraid of Young and challenged the mayor regularly, using the city charter rules as backup. She was, in fact, as tough as Judge Judy. Mayor Young once reportedly referred to her as “an evil woman,” when actually, Mahaffey was just following protocol.
Because it was her birthday, Barbara-Rose Collins once attended a council meeting wearing a tiara.
And then there was the time Collins inexplicably decided to lead the council, and everyone else in the room, in a rousing rendition of “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” It didn’t go over very well, but Councilwoman Martha Reeves joined in.
Another antagonistic relationship was that of Sheila Cockrel and Brenda Scott, each an outstanding council member. After one heated argument, Scott, a plus-size woman, said she felt threatened and needed protection.
Cockrel quipped, making reference to the law of gravity and unmovable objects, “What could I do to her?”
Brenda was one of my all-time favorite people.
Joann Watson raised eyebrows and sparked jokes when she proposed developing a part of the city as “Africantown,” in the tradition of Greektown. Many people, noting Detroit’s 90-percent-plus Black population, pointed out that the city was already “Africantown.”
When Barbara-Rose Collins decided to not seek election after her second tenure on Detroit City Council, Martha Reeves, seeking a second term, decided to run as “Martha-Rose Reeves.” That was an obvious, though ill-conceived, ploy to get votes, but it turns out that her middle name actually is Rose.
However, it was silly to introduce the slogan, “Vote for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas” since “the Vandellas” were not running for office.
Nicholas Hood III, one of the most dignified members of Detroit City Council, and one who never did anything inappropriate or embarrassing, was correct when he said televising council meeting was a mistake because some members were clearing playing to the camera.
Like the entertainers they sometimes are.