On Krystal A. Crittendon’s campaign webpage, she admits that before 2012 most people outside the legal community did not know her, or know her name as head of the corporation counsel for the City of Detroit from 2009 to 2012. But things quickly changed.
In the spring of 2012, Crittendon’s name began to dominate local and regional news stories when the city’s law department filed a civil action asking the court to determine the legality of a Financial Stability Agreement entered in between the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan. Her bold action and stance were not popular with some top city officials, in particular, Mayor Dave Bing. Yet, in the face of mounting pressure, Crittendon never wavered or backed down, showing what many Detroiters called “ethics and integrity” in local city government.
Crittendon is currently one of 21 candidates (14 on the ballots, 7 cleared for write in) running for the office of mayor of Detroit. The Michigan Chronicle caught up with her recently on the campaign trail. The candidate shared insight into her candidacy and feelings about Detroit’s past, present and future.
MICHIGAN CHRONICLE: Why do you want to be the mayor of Detroit?
KRYSTAL CRITTENDON: Detroit is going to need strong leadership as we move forward. The events over the past year and a half in our city have demonstrated to me that there are not a lot of people in this town who are willing, able or ready to stand up and fight for the people who live here. I know as we go forward there are some marvelous things happening in the city, but unless we have strong leadership, everyone is not going to get the chance to participate. I believe that I can be the difference maker in moving Detroit forward.
MC: When did you decide that you would make a run for the mayor’s office?
KC: Last summer when I was going out to speak and explain to the people of Detroit the charter, the consent agreement and the emergency manager law, which was then under Public Act 4. I was also a member of the election commission. The people that I encountered were encouraging me and asking me to run for mayor. I started to consider it when I saw that there was such a void with respect to other people standing up for the people in the city. There were people who had positions and the ability to speak out, but were not. No one was standing up for Detroiters.
MC: What separates you from the other candidates?
KC: I am the one candidate who knows municipal government inside and out. I know what works and what doesn’t work. The things that do not work, I know why they don’t work and know how to fix them. I am the one candidate where there will be no learning curve on day one in office in January, 2014. People are glad to see me as I campaign throughout the city. They recognize me as the one candidate in this race who will truly and honestly stand up for Detroiters, without compromise.
MC: You are one of several women running for the office of mayor. Has the fact that you are a female candidate factored in on the campaign trail?
KC: People want jobs. They want to have a clean and safe environment for their families. They want the street lights to work. People want someone who is not going to sell them out. They want someone who does not have any political favors to repay. The people want someone who has not been involved in past scandals that have plagued Detroit and Wayne County. Detroiters want someone who is going to bring ethics and integrity back to city hall and the office of mayor. The fact that I am a woman has become incidental.
MC: What’s your take on Detroit’s emergency manager?
KC: One of the biggest problems with emergency managers is that after they leave, they have destroyed the infrastructure of the city. The city’s assets, for the most part, are gone. Therefore, some of the same problems creep back. An EM is not the answer to fix our city’s problems.
MC: Have you met EM Kevyn Orr?
KC: I have not seen or met Mr. Orr. Let me make this clear: I don’t have anything against Mr. Orr as a person. I have a problem with the emergency manager laws because those laws here in the state of Michigan are illegal, undemocratic and unconstitutional. I believe the courts will resolve the issue of this unconstitutional law and that it and Mr. Orr will be gone.
MC: Whoever becomes mayor will have to work on some level of cooperation with the EM.
KC: The biggest problem that I hear coming from some of the other candidates is that they are saying things like they can work with the emergency manager, or work with him to get him out of here quicker. Under the emergency manager law, the EM has all the power. There is no working with someone who has all the power. The EM can make you (the new mayor) disappear with the stroke of a pen. There is no negotiation as our City Council president learned recently. Mr. Orr holds all the cards. That’s the type of dictatorial powers that emergency managers have.
MC: The blight throughout the city is difficult to ignore. While downtown seems to have a master plan for upgrading, the neighborhoods don’t seem to have one with any sustainability. What’s your take on the city’s neighborhoods?
KC: We need a mayor, not just for downtown and Midtown, but for all around town. People should not have to live in neighborhoods where when they open their front doors, they see abandoned homes, many of which have been abandoned for many years. They are eyesores. They are dangerous. They attract crime. They are dangerous for our school kids to have to walk pass every day. The person who owns that abandoned or blighted structure is leaving it that way because he or she knows that the city will not do anything to them to make them bring that house or blighted building up to code.
We have to change the culture. People need to know that if you are going to be a property owner in the city of Detroit, you are going to have to take care of your property. If not, we are going to take you to court and make sure we enforce the code to the fullest extent of the law. A lot of these abandoned structures are bank owned and have been allowed to just sit in our neighborhoods unoccupied for far too long.
We have to force the banks to rehab the structures. If they can’t be rehabbed, the structures need to be demolished…fix them up, bring them up to code or tear them down. The city also needs to stop sending money back to the federal government that we receive to demolish abandoned structures…it’s unconscionable!
MC: For many years, Detroit experienced White flight. Now, there is a pattern of White people moving back into the city, as well as businesses coming back. What’s your take on this trend?
KC: We need an integrated society. I think it’s important to live in a city where people who love Detroit want to live here with others who love Detroit, whether they are Black, White, male, female, old or young. People want to live with people who are committed to making the city better, making it strive and survive. Hopefully, we are getting to a point where race is not as relevant. We have a long way to go, but we are making great strides.
MC: How do you assure the people of Detroit that they will be safe under your administration and that the police will show up when called?
KC: We are at the point now that when people call 911, the people don’t look at their watches to see when the police will show up; they look at their calendars. We just don’t have enough police officers working in the neighborhoods. On any given Sunday at sports arenas downtown, there may be 85 police officers working. If we can have 85 police officers downtown at sports venues, we must make sure that we have enough police officers to respond to 911 calls in the neighborhoods.
One way that we can pay for more police officers is to go after that $800 million owed to the city by the state. We need to have a grant writing department in Detroit to pursue grant money that’s available. We also need to do something to incentivize police officers to move back into the city. because we know that when we have off-duty police officers living in the community and shopping in the community, the communities are safer.
MC: Talk a little about your background in the Motor City.
KC: I was born and raised in Detroit and went to Detroit public schools. I graduated from Cass Tech High School. The first seven years of my life, my family lived on the east side of the city, in the Seven Mile Rd. and Dequindre area. We later moved to Sherwood Forest on the west side. Growing up, I always told people that I wanted to be a lawyer. I graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in English Literature and earned my law degree from the Detroit College of Law. While I was attending law school, I worked as a caseworker for the State of Michigan’s Department of Social Services.
MC: If you are elected mayor, what’s you first priority?
KC: We have to be able to multitask from day one. The city can’t wait for us to solve one problem before we take on another. On day one we will be sending out letters to everybody who owes the city money so that we can begin to get the finances to do what we need to do to deliver the services that the people are entitled to. The reason the city of Detroit has a financial problem is because it has a collection problem. We just don’t collect the money that is owed to us. That will change if I’m elected.