September 28, 2020

A Racist and A Park

By Stephen Tuttle | Aug. 15, 2020

Former Leelanau County Road Commissioner Tom Eckerle recently explained he wouldn't wear a mask because “this whole thing is because of those n****** down in Detroit.”

Well now.

Undeterred, he pushed all-in, repeatedly using the vilest of racial epithets in order to explain his initial use of the vilest racial epithet. Then, a day after claiming he would never step down from his position, he quit. 

There's so much wrong here, it's hard to know where to start.

His repeated use of the n-word bespeaks of overt and hostile racism. The word, based on the Latin adjective "niger," meaning "black," was first widely used in the South in the 18th Century. It has always been a pejorative when used by white people. It was, in fact, intended that way from the beginning. Young Black Americans, especially young men, now use the word and derivatives of it, as almost a term of endearment with each other, despite the objections of their parents and grandparents. 

But there is a simple rule for white people: Don't use the word. Ever. Even repeating a quote or a line from a rap song in which the word is used will rain down contempt on the user. The BBC just issued an apology because one of its newsreaders used the word while quoting someone else. White social media users have been angrily condemned for using the word while singing along to a lyric that includes it.

And, no, COVID-19 wasn't caused by anybody in Detroit. There isn't even much evidence Detroit-area residents, regardless of their race, are responsible for outbreaks up here. It was China, then Europe, then us. Infected Detroiters were victims, not the source.

Regrettably, Eckerle's offensive choice of words wasn't even the most disheartening of his comments; it was his claim that he had received a lot of support from people after spewing his bile. That, sadly, may well be true, including among other local officials.

It is to the credit of Leelanau County residents that so many quickly stood up in protest and were willing to undertake the arduous process of recalling Eckerle. Their response likely encouraged his quick resignation. But not everybody was outraged. Those puzzled about all these protests need look no further; there are still those among us who harbor the basest racist instincts. Let's hope they aren't passing along the hatred to their children and grandchildren.   


Meanwhile, Traverse City has “surplus” parking. That revelation is likely quite a surprise to those now circling as they look for a spot. And it sort of flies in the face of years and years of discussion about insufficient parking and surveys indicating the lack of parking spaces is at the top of most people's gripe list. 

Actually, the “surplus” label was all just a technical subterfuge; the City Commission had to declare a particular surface parking lot as surplus so it could legally “dispose” of it. The Commissioners likely know there is no such thing as surplus parking in downtown Traverse City, so their vote was an expedient little fib. 

(Having disposed of the lot, perhaps the Downtown Development Authority will stop asking for more money for its parking department.)

They will give the parking lot property to TCF Bank (formerly Chemical Bank) while buying the property at Union and State Streets the bank currently occupies for $1.75 million, and we'll throw in an additional $750,000 as a moving fee. The property at State and Union, presumably after some additional expense, will become the new civic park, for which $3 million has already been committed from Rotary Charities.

Several City Commissioners said they really hoped the new TCF Bank building will include some upper-floor housing and, oh boy, maybe some affordable housing. Nope — not unless we want to spend even more taxpayer money additionally subsidizing both the builders and the tenants. 

There is housing aplenty under construction or planned for downtown Traverse City. None is what anyone would consider affordable because developers can't make any money that way. Six- and seven-figure condos pencil out; low-income housing and mythological workforce housing do not. 

The latest trend seems to be expensive condos atop very expensive short-term rentals, the worst of both worlds. An upscale but transient downtown population might help fill cash registers but won't much add to the character of the city.

But we are a step closer to a civic park. There's already $5.5 million committed to it, so let's hope it turns into the important gathering place the DDA and City Commission believe it can become.

Nevertheless, we are no closer to affordable housing downtown because it becomes ever more bizarrely expensive to develop much of anything. Developers, who aren't in business to be altruists, will create what provides a fair return on their investment, and that's high end-condos as residences or short-term rentals. Affordable housing downtown is simply impossible without massive subsidies.  


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