We thought we'd seen the worst of local elected officials in the aught and early teen years of Detroit City Council, when sessions were marked by shouting and name-calling, a councilmember allegedly accepted sausage as a bribe, and a council president went AWOL after allegedly hooking up with a teen boy.
But Flint is giving vintage Detroit a run for its money, thanks in part to the antics of Councilmember Eric Mays.
Mays is now making headlines again for his brashness. According to Flint news outlet East Village Magazine, in sessions on Monday and Wednesday, he repeatedly gave a Nazi salute and called Council President Monica Galloway "Hitler."
The Detroit News reports the Monday exchange went like this:
“President [Monica] Galloway, point of information: Did you have to be rude to me?" he asked.
She responded, “I’m not trying to.”
“Well then you shouldn’t have, I was wrapping it up,” he continued. “You ain’t got to be like Hitler. You sound like it from where I sat, like Hitler. What you want me to do?"
Then he gave a Nazi salute.
On Wednesday, despite calls for an apology, East Village Magazine reports Mays dug in:
He explained his behavior by saying, “I take the finances of the City of Flint very seriously and, if I have to, make a gesture of Hitler talking about a council president or any other leader that’s wrong.”
“I’m here to tell you if it’s Mr. Neeley [Mayor Sheldon Neeley] I’ll do the same gesture to prove that somebody is acting as a dictator. I can emphasize dictator and wrongfulness without being an advocate of genocide. So if all of this that I did, and it wasn’t no fun, it’s serious business I’m making a point. When I can’t speak verbally I’ll speak with sign language.”
As he exited the building, Mays made the Nazi salute several more times towards Galloway.
The Jewish Federation condemned the move, prompting Galloway to issue the following statement:
“This happened under my leadership and should never have happened,” Galloway said. “I am sorry to the community that, instead of apologizing, we make excuses for the things we’re doing even though we know that it is hurtful and could be seen as offensive.”
Still, Mays was not reprimanded by the council, and reportedly managed to fend off a minority faction's attempt to strip him of some of his duties.
Mays clashes frequently with colleagues. Last January, he was removed as chairman of the council's finance committee after colleagues accused him of harassment and abuse of power. He also last year reportedly helped mount petition drives to oust four councilmembers — some of whom were targeted for voting to extend a contract with a trash company that wasn't picking up on time.
At last week's council session, according to EVM, he reportedly requested the removal of "several council members who disagreed with him and audience members who laughed during the proceedings."
But the council's problems appear to run deeper than Mays. The body is racially divided, sources tell the local magazine.
The effort to remove Mays from committee leadership posts and as council vice president failed in a close vote along racial lines.
Councilmember Kate Fields, who is white, told EVM "it is so obvious that’s how council is responding; not on issues or logic, but on race." Another white member of her faction, Councilmember Eva Worthing, reportedly cried during an interview with EVM, saying she was "embarrassed" to be on the council and that "the attacks are constant."
Meanwhile, Allan Griggs — a white councilmember who was reportedly removed from a meeting this week by Galloway for dismissing some of her comments — accused the council president of disrespecting "anyone with a college degree."
Councilmember Maurice Davis in turn accused Griggs and Fields of racism.
"Mr. Griggs has got it bad," Davis told EVM, "because he thinks he’s a better person and he looks down his nose like he’s got privilege.”
Meanwhile Mays, for his part, not only seems to have a majority of the council's backing, but constituent approval as well.
According to EVM, 10 of 16 residents on hand Monday vouched for him:
... offering reasons that included his prompt response to residents’ phone calls, his willingness to attend court on behalf of homebound seniors, and his ability to help residents rehab houses that otherwise would be neglected in the 1st ward.