Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Don Williamson Goes National

The national media is picking up the story of Don Williamson's humble statue, and it's not pretty.


  1. All things considered, we SHOULD honor Don Williamson more than we do Michael Moore. Moore's movies have made Flint look worse than other cities, which it is not. Cleveland and Detroit are scary on every level, and Chicago us now right behind them, already matching the previous years homicide total by October of this year. At least Don Williamson tried to fix a few things as mayor, even if they were superficial. Moore has never done a thing for Flint.

  2. I like Don and Patsy Lou. I had occasion to meet them a few times in the context of local political fundraisers and other campaign activities. They seemed to me to be ordinary folk, except they've got what it takes to succeed in business.

    I like just about anybody that's succeeded in building multiple businesses, creating a bunch of wealth and employing a lot of people.

    Sure, Don has significant faults. So do I; perhaps so do most of this blog's readers. Don's are more visible only because he takes on more visible roles. My perception is that Don's hardscrabble younger days are still a part of his personality.

    Would Don have been better advised not to take on the Flint Mayor role? Sure. It's pretty obvious that he wanted it to prove yet again to his detractors that he's as good as anyone. My guess is that he found actually doing the job uninteresting. The Flint Mayor can't actually affect the City's economic trajectory and quality of life very much...too many constraints are baked into place. He would have been better off leaving the job sooner.

    My take would be that those who are amused by Don's self-aggrandizing statue don't have much grasp of history. Characters like Don, self-made, rags-to-riches types, are historically pretty common...especially in the U.S. The French coined the term "nouveau riche" for such folks. But so what if they assuage their remnant insecurities via spending their own money on things like statuary? I figure if you made the money, you can spend it however you want.

  3. JWilly, I agree with you to a certain extent. In my limited personal interactions with Williamson, he was nothing but accommodating and friendly. He has a reputation for not granting interviews and being combative with the press, but he readily agreed to meet with me when I was in Flint in 2009 to cover the special election after he resigned. He had no idea who I was and I'm not sure he was even familiar with Slate, the online magazine I was writing the story for.

    Yet he talked to me for over an hour, addressed some tough questions about his performance, and gave me a personal tour of the auto dealership. In other words, he was not the standoffish guy he is often portrayed to be. (Not saying he doesn't act that way in other situations, but he didn't act that way around me.) He even offered to have an employee drive me to his house for a tour, which was somewhat odd. Sure, he was probably trying to spin me, but all I can say is that he was turning on the charm offensive typical of any politician.

    And I agree that he and his wife have been remarkably successful in business. So he brags about it once in a while. So what? He's a guy of modest means who has succeeded in a place that's infamous for business failure. He deserves credit for that.

    I suppose he's not the first person to think the things that brought him success in one arena would translate into politics, and it's clear that didn't work out for him. It takes a different skill set to succeed in Flint politics, and it's clear he didn't have those skills. Or, if he had them, he was unwilling to use them. I also think it's worth pointing out that it may be impossible to succeed as mayor of Flint, given complex local, national and global economic forces aligned against the city. Williamson's approach probably didn't help the city much. And his personality magnified his failures as a mayor. But after more than five years of reporting on Flint, I'm left wondering who could have succeeded as mayor. Ronald Reagan? Bill Clinton? Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? Ghandi?

    So I sort of like the fact he put up the statue. As readers have pointed out, it's his money and his property. At the same time, you've got to expect mockery when you do something like that. Deep down, I think Don likes the criticism. He's a fighter, after all.

  4. I agree also Don and Patsy are Great people with great respect and Love for them both.JLintz Ft Worth


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.