When the 2014 model of the Detroit City Council rolled out on January 1, no one expected an entertaining ride. After all, the departures of show-stoppers like Martha Reeves, JoAnn Watson, Monica Conyers, and Charles Pugh left citizens without reliable sources of scandalous/corrupt/silly behavior to look forward to.
And then, Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry took the wheel and drove his way to the top of the news cycle. To anyone craving comic relief in local government, Cushingberry is like manna from heaven.
Cushingberry was stopped by the Detroit police on January 7 for either, a) failing to use a turn signal, or b) “driving while black,” (his words), or c) both. Not in dispute is the empty bottle of rum in the back seat of Cushingberry’s 25-year-old car. (Apparently, the councilman is a fan of stuff with little or no value.)
A police investigation is underway to discern who did what to who, but, really: Who cares? What matters is that, for the next four years, there is at least one person on the Detroit City Council who will be providing us with the kind of odd-ball behavior we’ve grown to expect from that legislative body.
What’s impressive about Cushingberry’s seizure of the mantle of scandal is his speed out of the gate. Elected members of the new council by district took office on January 1, a Wednesday. Cushingberry got pulled over by the cops the following Tuesday night, just four business days later. Talk about exceeding your stretch goals!
Still, Cushingberry has some work to do if he wants to match or surpass the skullduggery of his predecessors, including, but not limited to:
Martha Reeves – While performing in the United Kingdom, the Motown legend referred to her position on the Detroit City Council as “a second job.” JoAnn Watson – Watson spent years paying $50 to $68 a year in property taxes on her west-side home. Only after a Detroit Free Press investigation did Watson make payment arrangements with the city to repay back taxes. Monica Conyers – Name calling (who could forget her dubbing fellow councilman Ken Cockrell Jr., “Shrek”?), a fight with another woman in a bar, and finally, federal prison time after pleading guilty to accepting money in exchange for her vote on a $1.2-billion sludge-hauling deal. Charles Pugh – He was criticized for sending bare-shirted videos of himself after losing more than 50 pounds through diet and exercise. That was just warm-up. Last year, Pugh — who is gay — was accused of engaging in inappropriate relations with a teenage boy. Suddenly camera shy, Pugh split town. Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr stripped Pugh of his salary as Detroit City Council President for being AWOL from Council meetings. No criminal charges were ever filed. Pugh’s whereabouts are unknown.
Cushingberry will have to be diligent and creative if he wants to reach the level of notoriety of the aforementioned office holders, but he seems up to the challenge. I would not bet against a guy who drives around with a dead bottle of rum in the back seat of a Buick Park Avenue that reeks of marijuana.
Now, if someone could arrange to get Cushingberry and Rob Ford, the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto in the same room, that would really be entertaining.