news hits N ews Land bank director fired for drinking on the job and stalking an underling by Allie Gross A few weeks ago it was reported that Kevin Simowski, the head of the Detroit Land Bank, had been fired. The news came a few days after Charlie LeDuff’s investigation into questionable math surrounding demolitions in the city (the cost of tearing down a property has jumped from $10,000 under Mayor Dave Bing to as high as $20,000 under Mayor Mike Duggan). While Duggan said the termination had nothing to do with LeDuff’s accusations of dysfunction at the land bank, media outlets (including MT) speculated. It turns out the story is way crazier than we ever could have predicted. While it’s still up for debate whether the land bank is dysfunctional in a “these numbers don’t add up” sort of way, there isn’t much question that
for at least six months the Land Bank has been dysfunctional in a “I hate coming to work because my boss is stalking me” kind of way. According to the Motor City Muckraker, Simowski was let go for showing up to work intoxicated and threatening his employees. Let’s let Motor City Muckraker
“He told me on one instance he owned a weapon and would kill himself because i stopped being his friend and would not have lunch with him,” Lewand, 38, wrote in the PPO. “Based on his actions, I am fearful and feel threatened.” And: “Since April of 2015, Kevin has constantly harassed and displayed
‘He told me on one instance he owned a weapon and would kill himself because i stopped being his friend and would not have lunch with him.’ explain: “Carrie Lewand-Monroe, who was then the principal director of the land bank, filed a personal protection against her boss on Oct. 8, the same day he [Simowski] was fired as the director.
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aggressive behavior. After six months, he showed up at my home uninvited,” Lewand-Monroe wrote in the PPO. The uninvited visit, according to the Motor City Muckraker, occurred on Oct. 7, after Simowski, who allegedly
showed up at the office drunk and belligerent repeatedly, was placed on “medical leave” in September and told not to show up on the land bank premises. We definitely did not see this story coming. Check out the Motor City Muckraker’s piece for a more detailed account of the PPO and the track record of Simowski, a close ally of Duggan’s. The Detroit Land Bank — which is in charge of foreclosed properties that don’t sell at the Wayne County Tax Auction — has demolished 7,000 buildings during Duggan’s time in office. Regardless of LeDuff’s allegations of funny math, this story definitely indicates it was probably a tough place to work, at least for Lewand-Monroe, for the last few months.
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How voters were screwed out of the state they wanted by Tom Perkins In early June, just before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled samesex couples could marry nationwide, Michigan’s representatives were already busy crafting and passing a fresh assault on LGBT and others’ civil rights. Under the new law, Christian and Catholic adoption agencies that receive taxpayer money could now tell samesex couples, unmarried couples, Muslims, or anyone else seeking to adopt a child who isn’t a Christian to get lost. As multiple polls show, the self-righteously entitled “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was met with a clear thumbs down from most residents: Around two-thirds disapproved. Conversely, polls found a large majority of Michiganders supported the Supreme Court’s ruling and gay marriage in general, and some polling indicated 70 percent wanted same-sex couples’ civil rights expanded. Yet, against much of the state’s wishes, the Republican-led legislature pressed ahead with the new law, “restoring” religious freedom that had never been in danger and restricting the freedoms of thousands and thousands of residents. This isn’t the first time that lawmakers have acted against public opinion. In 2012, a poll found more than 70 percent opposed a proposed law that would allow concealed firearms in the state’s schools. The Republican legislature shrugged at the vast opposition and sent the bill to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk anyway, but even the governor — no one’s idea of a liberal champion — vetoed it, partly on the grounds that a majority of the state opposed the idea. With increased frequency over the past five years, new state laws have
gone hard against the grain of public opinion. The normal response would be for voters to bounce lawmakers in the next election. But that can’t happen in Michigan. And that’s because the state’s legislative districts are gerrymandered to within an inch of their lives to give Republicans unchecked power. Let’s put this in perspective: In 2014, Michigan voters cast 30,000 more ballots for Democrats than Republicans in the state’s House of Representatives races. Despite that, Republicans hold a huge advantage of 63-47 there. As for the state Senate races, the raw count came in close to even but Republicans hold a 27-11 majority. The same problem is found in U.S. Congressional districts. Democratic candidates received 50,000 more votes
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in 2014, but Republicans sent nine representatives to Washington, D.C. while Dems sent five. And that leads to unpopular laws and dysfunctional politicians, which are the end result of gerrymandering. So what is it exactly? It’s the art of politicians in power — in Michigan, this means Republicans — redrawing legislative district lines in such a way that Democratic voters are herded into a small number of districts while a majority of Republican voters are spread among a much larger number of districts. That means when the votes are tallied, the Democrats, pushed into tiny pockets, get as many or more votes, but the Republicans win far more districts and send more reps to Lansing and the nation’s capital. That also creates safe districts that insulate Republicans
from voter anger, allowing them to pass unpopular laws with no repercussions to their future re-elections. To put it in even clearer terms: Gerrymandering is a form of legal election theft that predetermines results and creates a one-party system. As many in Michigan and other states argue, there’s an inherent conflict of interest for a politician to draw their own legislative districts, which, when looked at on a map, can resemble a Rorschach test more than any reasonable political “district” guided by geography and demographics. “I don’t think politicians should be picking their voters. Voters should be picking their politicians,” says Rep. Robert Wittenberg, an Oakland County Democrat working to call attention to the issue. “More people voted for state
F House Democrat candidates, but Republicans have a 63-47 majority. With those overall numbers, there shouldn’t be that big of a majority. If there is, then the lines are drawn unfairly.” The “gay adoption” legislation and “tots and glocks” redux are only a few in a litany of Mississippi-esque laws that are far to the right of what polls show Michigan’s mainstream finds reasonable or responsible. Most Michiganders don’t like “rape insurance” for instance, or financial marital law presided over by an emergency financial manager, or allowing anyone to discriminate against gays and religions of any sort. Polls also found a large majority support campaign finance reform, want more funding for public schools, and, in 2014, supported immediately bumping the minimum wage to $10.10. Under intense public pressure, lawmakers eventually increased the minimum wage, but it will only get to $9.20 in 2017. Moreover, Republicans get creative in overriding voters’ will, if need be. In 2012, Michigan residents repealed the unpopular emergency manager legislation. The law allowed the state to strip locally elected governments of their power, and residents were uncomfortable with that. Republicans didn’t care, drafted a new version of the law, and rammed it through a month later. Beyond the unpopular laws, gerrymandering legislative districts can turn them into cultures for batshit crazy politicians.
n Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat Still, for the most part, not many see the link between the state’s gerrymandered districts and their frustration, and it hasn’t exactly been a shout-atthe-computer item. (A generally smart friend asked if “Gerry” was a man or woman when the issue came up.) While redistricting is a part of the mechanics of politics, those self-appointed to tackle it say its importance can’t be overstated. “It has a direct impact on everyone in the state, every day, in terms of what
The state’s legislative districts are gerrymandered to within an inch of their lives to give Republicans unchecked power. Take, for example, world-class fools like Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat. The tea party duo continues to make national headlines with fallout from their fake gay sex and drug scandal. Former tea party Rep. Dave Agema passed them the baton. He’s infamous for spending a recent Easter and New Year’s Eve posting Ku Klux Klan propaganda and other hate speech on his Facebook page. The Mitten State’s new laws, its government’s treatment of some residents, and politicians’ behavior, are enough to generate embarrassment and shame. It creates sort of an identity crisis — “This isn’t us!” — as some have noted.
the legislature does,” says Mark Brewer, an elections attorney and the former head of the Michigan Democratic Party. “In the end, this is about the voters. This is about politicians setting districts that predetermine the results. That’s what the people are upset about.” Interest in a fix is growing, however. This year has seen the first serious discussions on establishing an independent redistricting commission to straighten out the legislative lines to accurately reflect Michigan’s electorate. That measure has worked well in other states, according to those who aren’t losing power. In California, incumbents were so safe that only one
congressional seat changed party control in 255 elections over a 10-year span. The state saw unprecedented turnover after the lines were redrawn in 2011. Naturally, many Michigan Republicans will bray that redistricting reform is an attempt by Democrats to grab power. But their counterparts in states like Illinois and Maryland, where Democrats have pretzeled the districts in such a way that Republicans are the guaranteed minority, see it different. Those two states, along with West Virginia, are among the nation’s most gerrymandered and are controlled by Dems, according to a Washington Post analysis. It also found North Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Alabama among the most gerrymandered, and they’re controlled by Republicans. “This is what politicians do,” says Sue Smith, vice president for redistricting for the nonpartisan League of Women Voters. The league is spearheading an effort to illuminate the connection between voters’ dissatisfaction and gerrymandered districts. “Gerrymandering is something done by Republicans in Michigan and Democrats in Illinois. This is an issue that’s bubbling up across the country in different states,” Smith says. “When you let legislators draw lines in a way that keeps them in power, many times the action they take doesn’t reflect desires of the voters. It’s just what happens, but it’s not fair to citizens.”
Meet the crazies While a rogue miscreant will sometimes manage to cloak their identity enough to slip through an election, the cast and show in Michigan’s legislature is something entirely different. Gerrymandered districts open a route to Lansing for the parties’ extremists, crazy people, criminals, or plain dumb. If a district is drawn dramatically in one party’s favor, there’s no opposition to stop a shady or stupid candidate. Thus, Michigan’s legislature now holds a higher percentage of questionable politicians than anytime in memory, Brewer says. “Gerrymandering tends to make the Legislature a more extreme body with public policy consequence that we have seen,” he says. Consider the well-documented misadventures of Courser and Gamrat, who are costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. A secret recording made by a Courser staffer revealed he plotted a bizarre plan to send out a fake email accusing himself of sleeping with a male prostitute and doing drugs. That would prevent the revelation of his real wrongdoing — an affair with Gamrat. In the email, Courser labeled Gamrat “a tramp, a lie, and a laugh” complicit in his behavior. The email, Courser told the staffer, would be a “controlled burn” to “inoculate the herd” in an apparent reference to voters. Of course, that didn’t go as intended. Instead it became fuel, and eventually the legislature moved to jettison
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M usic was.” Saliers says the band has had its struggles along the way, especially after they signed to a major label and “everything got big and weird.” “We were touring for weeks and weeks and weeks at a time, and it wasn’t sustainable for us,” she says. “We’re just not that kind of band, and we’re homebodies. We want to be with our people, and we want to live normal lives and stuff. We figured it out.” Even before things got “big and weird,” Saliers and Ray had already been working hard and playing a lot of shows. After the release of “Crazy Game,” they took a DIY approach to get their music in the hands of the right people at college radio stations, hopeful that those connections would share their music with a wider audience. But as Saliers remembers, they didn’t necessarily have grand aspirations, but instead thought of it as “fun.” “We didn’t really aspire to be famous or have big careers; we just thought, ‘Oh man, if we can get out of the medium rotations at this college station, then maybe we can go into heavy rotation,” she says. “We strategized and we had lists — Amy had names and numbers to call and I had names and numbers to call and then we set up our own gigs at different clubs. We would just scour the indie newspapers for what clubs to play. “Amy was so smart — she had a natural ability to sort of help us pick what to try to go for next. She’s awesome at it. So we loved it. It wasn’t like, ‘We’re doing this to get somewhere.’ It was like, ‘This is really fun.’ ‘Oh my God, the next biggest gig,’ or, ‘Oh my God, we just got into heavy rotation at this college station,’ and, ‘Oh my God, 15 people came instead of two!’” Saliers wonders if bands today would even have the patience to take the route they took. “They might expect that things are going to happen more quickly,” she says. “But also, there’s barely a way to afford being a band anymore, you know, because you practically pay to play at clubs and it’s expensive to travel and if you have a family, forget about it. We were lucky, we were young and didn’t have families and the time was right.” Their breakout hit “Closer to Fine” introduced their music to a wider audience when their self-titled major label debut was released in 1989. “I was sitting on a porch in Vermont on a family vacation, and it felt good to sing,” Saliers says, looking back
feature on writing the song. “That’s how I know to keep songs, you know, if they feel good and I want to keep playing
that will hit home with both longtime fans and newcomers. The duo continue to write from its own personal
them again and again — then I figure they’re keepers.” They’ve continued to use that philosophy with the hefty stack of fan favorites they’ve accumulated over their years of recording and playing shows together. “We play what we like to play, honestly,” she says. “Fortunately, we never get tired of ‘Closer to Fine,’ ‘Shame on You’ or ‘Galileo’ — we play those songs almost every night.
perspective, and “If I Don’t Leave Here Now,” partially inspired by the passing of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a particularly poignant moment on the album, written by Saliers, who says, “I’ve gone through my own journey — I’ll put it that way.” “I didn’t know him personally at all,” she says. “I just admired his work and I thought, ‘It’s very easy for addiction to kill anyone.’ And not only does it
‘We didn’t really aspire to be famous or have big careers; we just thought, “Oh man, if we can get out of the medium rotations at this college station, then maybe we can go into heavy rotation.”’ But we make a fresh set list, and we don’t pick songs that we don’t feel like playing, so we’re just always engaged. We want to play the songs that we pick, and that feels good.” With the recent release of One Lost Day, their 15th studio release, Saliers and Ray have assembled another powerful collection of songs and stories
happen to great actors, it can happen to anyone and it does happen. You can get derailed without even knowing it, and now, you know, in our country, we have this terrible meth problem and also addiction to painkillers and then if you can’t get the painkillers you go to heroin. I’ve known people who have died and of course I read about it all
of the time. So it just became a very personal song about what it feels like to be addicted and how easy it is to go and how you have to remove yourself from that place with the help of others or you’ll never get out of it.” “Elizabeth” recalls young love and wild times in New Orleans that are now years past. While you could probably find that person on Facebook, the song explores the idea that perhaps some things should stay buried in the past as they are and as we remember them. “‘Elizabeth’ is a true story,” Saliers says. “Elizabeth and I went to Tulane and we lived in New Orleans and crazy shit happened and I was young and every word in that song is true. But there is a lot of, like, I can’t help but make a cultural statement, the way that ... and I do it too, [with] everything my daughter, Cleo, does. [I say,] ‘Oh, let me get the camera out and let me film it,’ rather than just being in that moment and letting it pass and remembering how sweet it was, you know, but not being able to recapture it.” “It’s always been the beauty of live music to me and now of course everybody can record live music on their phones. But I just did take one shot at the beauty of not doing that with this particular relationship. I haven’t looked this person up — I don’t even know where she is or what she’s doing. But I like that song and it’s really, really personal and fun to sing.” The Indigo Girls will be on the road through mid-November supporting the new album, and where there’s free time, Saliers will be working to complete her first solo album, something that has been in the works for a while. She says the developing collection is “more about rhythms, more about grooves,” embracing her love of hiphop and R&B, and hearing her call it a “kitchen sink project,” it doesn’t sound like she’s holding anything back. Seven songs have been recorded for the album so far and Saliers plans to release it in 2016. The Indigo Girls perform on Sunday, Nov. 15 at the SoundBoard at MotorCity Casino Hotel; Doors at 7:30 p.m.; 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit; soundboarddetroit.com; Tickets $27-45.
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A who worked across a variety of disciplines. The former Willis Gallery served as a hub for many of them, hosting art shows and poetry readings. “The writers and the poets and the painters were all one happy little family,” she says. (Since closing, the building now houses Avalon Bakery, which arguably ushered in Midtown’s current incarnation.) By her own measure, Goodman and her introspective paintings were the anomaly in a scene in which her contemporaries were more apt to be making assemblages out of post-postindustrial detritus — occasionally shooting bullets through them in the case of Michael Luchs, or burning them in the case of Gordon Newton. But Goodman’s work does share some of the Corridor’s fascination with the grotesque and the unrefined. Recently, critic John Yau has drawn comparisons with her work to artists like Hieronymus Bosch and Francisco de Goya, noting Goodman’s paintings “made it viscerally evident that she believed the monstrous was everywhere, including in herself.” “A lot of my work at that time was connected to surrealism and it was very personal. It was like a visual diary,” Goodman says. “So mine stood out in a certain way. But we all had our own journeys.” Throughout Goodman’s work, there is no signature style. Goodman says that early on she began to eschew the traditional, representational education she obtained at the Society of Arts and Crafts for the more symbolic method of image making. Her eureka moment came when she met Faye Kicknosway, a well-known poet at the time. “She was teaching creative writing at Wayne State, and I started taking classes from her because I wanted my work to get more personal,” Goodman says. “I started creating these symbols for myself and people in my life. For years, I worked with these symbols, and it was very exciting because my work is always coming out of something personal and emotional. I was able to communicate what was going on and how I felt.” That era continued through the mid-’80s, when Goodman decided to go completely abstract. “I felt locked in. I wanted to be free,” she says of the switch. “But then I felt like I needed that personal connection again.” In the ’90s, she began incorporating equal parts representation and abstraction into her paintings. “I had put on a lot of weight, and I wanted to do some paintings that dealt with how I felt about myself,” she says. “So I did this series of paintings that were
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feature self-portraits. I carried something of my abstraction into them, but they’re clearly figures.” The result is a body of work that can be at once ambiguous and familiar, but almost always unsettling. “I think when you look at all of my work you’ll see there is no signature style other than I take risks and move around in my work, and it’s always emotive and personal,” she says. The cause for Goodman’s homecoming are a pair of retrospectives, which will collectively offer the first full glimpse at her 50-year career. Brenda Goodman: Selected Work 1961-2015 will take a look at paintings created from her time as a student at the College for Creative Studies (then known as the Society of Arts and Crafts) in the early ’60s through the present. Meanwhile, Brenda Goodman: A Life on Paper will showcase much of her less-known work. The shows mark the first time Goodman has returned to her hometown since 2003, and Goodman says she looks forward to a reunion of the Corridor artists. “It really felt like a community, where we hung out. I wasn’t a real drinker, but they’d all go to the bar later at night,” she says. “If I wanted to do a studio visit, I had to do it between the guys drinking their heads off at night, and then having a hangover the first part of the day. I figured that around 3 o’clock was always a good time for doing a studio visit, because it was between them getting drunk and sobering up, so there was a little window there.” Goodman admits the scene wasn’t always pretty. “I do think there were some jealousies, and competitiveness,” she says. “But everyone seemed to really like that we were all together. I don’t think it’s ever been quite like that since then — and my guess is there never will be.” Brenda Goodman: Selected Work 1961-2015 has an opening reception from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13 at College for Creative Studies’ Center Galleries, 301 Frederick Douglass St., Detroit; 313-6647800; collegeforcreativestudies.edu/ center_galleries; runs through Dec. 19. Brenda Goodman: A Life on Paper has an opening reception from 5 p.m.7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14 at Paul Kotula Projects, Ferndale; 248-5443020; paulkotula.com; runs through Dec. 19.