By Charlie LeDuff
Gretchen Whitmer should forget about the damn roads for a minute. She’s got problems with the damn house.
When Whit tapped Garlin Gilchrist II as her running mate for governor in August, she thought she’d solved a few problems for herself and the Democrats, who are fielding an all white, all female slate for statewide offices.
Gilchrist II is black. He’s a got a penis. He’s a millennial. And he’s from Detroit where she’s not popular.
When Gretch introduced the relatively unknown Deuce, she downplayed his utter lack of political experience, the least experience in Michigan history of the lieutenant governor: “I wanted someone who’s got my back,” she crowed. (See video)
But Detroiters in the North End neighborhood don’t care about her back. It’s his backyard that’s got them pissed. They call him a slum speculator.
As it happens, Gilchrist is an absentee owner of a blighted duplex at 253 Marston. The rotting building hulks next to another occupied duplex. Mattresses molder in the Deuce’s back yard. The sewage trench in the back is a yawning gape. It has no back door. Some windows are boarded up. Bricks and plywood litter the front yard. The grass is unmowed. The walls inside are stripped to the studs.
Children live next door to this.
“He’s holding, waiting for the price to go up,” said Tommy McCray, 55, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. “There’s a school boy in that apartment right there next to it. Some homeless lights the place on fire, the boy’s the first to go. It’s disgusting.” (See McCray in video below).
Gilchrist came to own the property, in the red-hot and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood north of Grand Boulevard, more than two years ago. He bought the property from the troubled Detroit Land Bank as part of Mayor Mike Duggan’s 50% discount plan for city employees to encourage them to move back into Detroit.
Gilchrist II paid just $13,500.
One caveat of the deal is that the owner must hold the property for three years, or turn over a piece of the profit to the city. Another caveat is that buyers like Gilchrist II must rehabilitate the property within six months. If not, the city can take it back. Not only has the city not done so, Deuce has never been issued a blight ticket.
“He got power,” McCray said. “The rest of us get tickets for having our trash cans out too long. The city takes your property if you don’t fix it up. Not him.”
Gretch and the Dems are promoting Gilchrist II as a socially conscious black man from the city, who once worked for Obama and is an expert at Twitter. Black, notwithstanding, the neighbors here view him as another profiteering hipster from the suburbs. A guy with connections, a guy who used to work for the mayor, a guy who’s out for himself.
“They wouldn’t let something like that go on in Farmington,” McCray said.
(Gilchrist II moved to Detroit four years ago from Washington DC and lives in a half-million dollar loft in Corktown. As a child, he lived and attended elementary, middle and high school in the toney suburb of Farmington.)
When reached by telephone, Gilchrist II admitted he was the owner of 235 Marston and said he was trying to come up with financing to fix the joint up.
“No, I’m not a speculator,” he insisted. “I’m trying to fix it up. I’m trying to find the money right now.”
When asked if his political connections were helping him to keep a building he was no longer entitled to own, Deuce said: “Thank you for calling me.”
He is polite, if nothing else.
It gives one little confidence to know that a man asking to hold the second highest position in a state with a $57 billion budget can’t manage finances on a rental property that endangers the lives of children and adults alike.
Then again, what’s really expected out of a lieutenant governor but a few cheap votes? The job doesn’t seem all that taxing. Brian Calley, was able to do it while earning an M.B.A from Harvard, as Flint was being poisoned.
If you think it’s Whitmer’s Republican opponent Bill Schuette who tipped me off, you’d be wrong. It was the citizens of the North End.
“They all the same,” McCray said, inspecting Deuce’s open sewer trench. “None of them really gives a damn. Man, somebody’s gonna get hurt in that.”
Neighbor Tommy McCray has a message in video for Garlin Gilchrist II.