Bing, Sny­der a blast from a bet­ter past

The Washington Times Daily - - Business -

It’s nice, ev­ery now and then, to open the news­pa­per and find some good news. I re­al­ize I’m dat­ing my­self by ad­mit­ting to get­ting news from a news­pa­per — not from a phone or com­puter or 24-hour cable net­work — but there are rea­sons to do so. Any good pa­per, like this one, has trained ed­i­tors who read the copy for sense and gram­mar and check the facts, and who or­ga­nize the pre­sen­ta­tion of sto­ries to give readers con­text about what’s hap­pen­ing in the world.

Get­ting back to the good news I men­tioned, I’ll date my­self a sec­ond way. When I was grow­ing up in New York as an ar­dent bas­ket­ball fan, there was a won­drous guard on the NBA’S Detroit Pis­tons, a lean and ex­plo­sive player as quick as the blazes, pos­sess­ing a great jump shot and the abil­ity to drive by any­one, a stal­wart de­fender and a con­sum­mate team player.

His name was Dave Bing, and now he’s the mayor of Detroit. His city, as you might have heard, has been rocked by the re­ces­sion, al­most knocked out by the auto-in­dus­try cri­sis, and hit by a pop­u­la­tion loss that re­duced the tax base. Like chief ex­ec­u­tives across Amer­ica, he has public em­ploy­ees to pay — cops and fire­fight­ers, public nurses and garbage col­lec­tors and more — and, like his coun­ter­parts, his costs are largely la­bor costs.

But Mr. Bing, a na­tive of North­east Washington, a Demo­crat, the son of a do­mes­tic and a brick­layer, hasn’t sought to make his city’s em­ploy­ees the scape­goats for its prob­lems, un­like so many elected of­fi­cials else­where. He hasn’t taken the easy path of cre­at­ing di­vi­sions for po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage. In­stead, he’s looked for so­lu­tions.

To­ward that end, he’s work­ing with the state’s Re­pub­li­can gov­er­nor, who has avoided the an­tag­o­nis­tic ap­proach em­braced by his coun­ter­parts in sur­round­ing states. Gov. Rick Sny­der has ac­tu­ally tried to tackle the fis­cal prob­lems his state faces, not find some­one to blame — kind of an old-fash­ioned ap­proach, sort of like read­ing news­pa­pers.

Mr. Sny­der may fight with the unions that rep­re­sent his em­ploy­ees, but he’s not fight­ing to de­stroy them — and there’s a big dif­fer­ence.

For con­trast, look at Wis­con­sin, where the gov­er­nor is em­broiled in a re­call elec­tion af­ter strip­ping public em­ploy­ees of col­lec­tive-bar­gain­ing rights. Or at Ohio, where vot­ers dealt their gov­er­nor a de­feat by re­peal­ing his an­tila­bor mea­sure. You start cas­ti­gat­ing work­ers and unions for a fis­cal cri­sis they didn’t cause, and that can’t be fixed on their backs, and you waste a whole lot of time, en­ergy and re­sources, while also di­vid­ing the public and in­flam­ing ten­sions.

If, in­stead, politi­cians of dif­fer­ent par­ties and out­looks work to­gether and work with the unions as well, maybe the work­ers find a way to help out too.

Mr. Bing and Mr. Sny­der are work­ing on an agree­ment to ad­dress the city’s debt. It’s a tough mea­sure, one that could lead to the ap­point­ment of a fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sory board that would have au­thor­ity to re­duce or pri­va­tize some city ser­vices and to abridge con­tracts with public-sec­tor unions.

Mr. Bing has in­sisted on con­ces­sions from city unions. The unions aren’t thrilled. Mr. Sny­der wants still more. Last week, a coali­tion of 30 unions rep­re­sent­ing city work­ers rat­i­fied con­tracts that in­clude com­pro­mises, which Mr. Bing’s chief of staff said re­flects “how la­bor and man­age­ment can work to­gether in a fair and con­struc­tive way.”

As a union leader put it, “We want to fix Detroit to­gether.”

Wow. What an old-fash­ioned ap­proach. Not my way or the high­way, but rather get­ting things done. Re­sults, not drama; sort of like Dave Bing on the court.

Detroit and Michi­gan have prob­lems, to be sure. But you know what? They’ve also got lead­ers. Mr. Sny­der and Mr. Bing don’t have all the an­swers. But they have the right ap­proach. And, in the end, that makes a world of dif­fer­ence.

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