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Published: Monday, 8/10/2009

Common sense in Detroit

DETROITERS haven't been exactly identified with good government in recent years, but we see a glimpse of improvement in last week's election.

For evidence of municipal self-destruction, one only has to recall the "hip-hop" mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, whose antics scandalized much of Michigan long before his felony convictions and resignation last fall.

And Detroit City Council has long looked like a bad situation comedy, especially in the last year, with President Pro Tem Monica Conyers frequently calling fellow council members names, Motown legend Martha Reeves not appearing to know where she was, and the shadow of an FBI investigation hanging over the council.

Thankfully, in Tuesday's primary election, voters showed they'd had enough. Ms. Conyers, who had to resign after pleading guilty to a felony related to taking a bribe, got a mere 2 percent of the vote. Ms. Reeves was rejected by 94 percent of the electorate.

After the Nov. 3 runoff, there will be at least four, and possibly as many as six, new faces on the nine-person council. Voters also sensibly opted to point their new mayor Dave Bing, the basketball star turned successful businessman, toward a full four-year term.

Mr. Bing, who first took office after a special election in May, also has to face a general election in November, but the result seems a foregone conclusion. He won 74 percent in the primary; his closest challenger, Tom Barrow, an accountant who served time in prison for tax evasion and bank fraud, had 11 percent.

Perhaps even more important, however, Detroiters elected a responsible set of members for a new commission to revise the deeply flawed city charter. Additionally, Detroiters will likely have an option in November to vote to return the city to a mix of at-large and district councilmen. Currently, all council members are at large, and entire neighborhoods feel they have no representation at all.

Detroit is one of America's most troubled municipalities, and no political system or leader can meet the enormous challenges the city faces overnight: poverty, lack of jobs, urban blight, and insufficient mass transit. But if Motown has any hopes of recapturing its glory, it needs a government run by honest and intelligent adults. With the election, the city has taken a giant first step in that direction.

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