Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from June 18, 2009

Tower of Power

In a long history of silly tiffs between the city of Detroit and those beyond its borders, it was one of the silliest.

But considering who was occupying the mayor's seat in the city, it was no wonder that something seemingly so innocuous could turn into the proverbial mountain from mole hill.

The water tower above the Detroit Zoo became a big old bone of contention, circa mid-1980s, in the thick of Coleman Young's tenure as Hizzoner.

It was all much ado about nothing, Bob Berg told me years later. With a chuckle, to boot.

Berg was Mayor Young's spokesperson, both during and after Coleman's years in office.

Berg and I got to know each other while I was Programming Director for Barden Cablevision in Detroit. We became friends of sorts. When my father passed away in February 1996, Bob was one of the first to send condolences.

One day, chit-chatting on the phone, I mentioned the water tower flap. Berg, by that time, had started his own public relations company.

First, the chuckle.

Then, "That was a bunch of nothing!" Berg told me, still laughing. "Oh, my goodness. The water tower..."

His voice trailed off.

The Detroit Zoo, geographically located in Royal Oak, is nonetheless part of the Detroit Zoological Society, which included the zoo on Belle Isle--which is squarely located in Detroit proper, obviously.

On the Royal Oak tower was Mayor Young's name--as, you know, mayor of the city whose zoological society's umbrella included the Zoo on Woodward and I-696.

Oh, the uproar!

How DARE Mayor Young splash his name on the tower, which is oh-so-visible to folks traveling east and west on 696!

It's in Royal Oak, after all!

The Detroit Zoo water tower, when Kwame Kilpatrick was still Detroit's mayor

If you're too young to remember or simply have forgotten, this was big doings for quite some time. Yet another "us vs. them" thing to deal with when it came to the city and its suburbs.

Mayor Young, of course, tended to bring that mentality out, even from normally sane folks.

Young's name--which was a large, horizontal decal on the tower's face--perturbed people to no end. Non-Detroit residents, that is.

Berg dismissed it when I brought it up.

"The Zoo was part of the society, which was funded and staffed, at the time, by the city," Berg said. "No matter who was mayor, his name would be on that tower."

Ah, but no mayor had put his name on the tower prior to Young.

"It was just something we did, to make the tower look nicer," Berg said.

Berg reminded me that the mayor is the one who hires and fires the zoo director.

Good point.

Berg got a chuckle out of me bringing up the tower controversy, but he also admitted that it wasn't very funny at the time. It took up a lot of his time, being the mayor's press secretary and all.

"Funny, but nobody complains now," Berg said at the time (circa 1995-96), noting that Mayor Dennis Archer's name was painted on the tower with little to no fanfare.

Bob's former boss, I reminded him, wasn't exactly a kumbaya kind of guy, bringing city residents and the suburbs together in harmony.

To that, he begrudgingly agreed. With disclaimers, of course.

Still defending ole Coleman.

But I still like Bob. Saw him at a media function prior to the Super Bowl in Detroit in 2006. We shared a drink and laughed a bit.

He couldn't pick his boss, I figured.


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