Sarah Cwiek

Sarah Cwiek - Detroit Reporter/Producer

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October, 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit. Before her arrival at Michigan Radio, Sarah worked at WDET-FM as a reporter and producer.

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State lawmakers are considering bills in this “lame duck” session that would provide one-time relief for property owners facing tax foreclosure in the coming year.

The situation is particularly dire in Wayne County, where the County treasurer has already served foreclosure notices on about 75,000 tax-delinquent properties—about 62,000 in Detroit alone. 

Terry L. Atwell / Air National Guard

Michigan Senator Carl Levin says a new military spending bill could bring some big wins for the state’s defense sector.

Levin, a Democrat and Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has a big hand in crafting the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

Detroit skyline.
user JSFauxtaugraphy / Flickr

Update 7:25 pm

100% of Detroit's public lighting grid was up and running as of Tuesday evening, city officials said, while noting Public Lighting Department crews were still dealing with a handful of "localized issues."

All PLD customers lost power this morning, after a "major cable failure" at the Mistursky power station. When crews tried to reconnect part of the system through another circuit, a breaker failed, triggering a system-wide shutdown around 10:30 am.

The PLD grid is being phased out over four years, and is currently serviced by DTE Energy. DTE is in the process of building a replacement grid, but is still using the old infrastructure to serve most PLD customers in the meantime. Those customers include some of the city's largest institutions--such as the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, a number of courts, many Detroit Public Schools, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

At an afternoon press conference, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the outage is "another reminder of how much work we have to do to rebuild this city."

“A bankruptcy order doesn’t solve the decades of neglect in our infrastructure, and that’s what we saw," said Duggan.

“Every month that goes by, we will be more and more on a more modern system, and the likelihood of this happening will go down. But it’s part of rebuilding the city.”

DTE Electric President Jerry Norcia said the company is in the process of inspecting the current system and making needed upgrades, but had been focusing on known weak points. 

"This was a station that had not failed before," said Norcia, who said the exact cause of the cable failure isn't known yet.

The city's police and fire stations also lost power, but the 911 dispatch system and other communications were up and running throughout. That was fortunate, as some trauma patients had to be re-routed from Detroit's Receiving Hospital, and firefighters rescued people stranded on the top floors of a few downtown buildings.

Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins said emergency personnel kept things operating with only a few minor adjustments. “They received instructions to move their vehicles outside the quarters, so we were able to respond to every call for help around this city," he said.

The Detroit Public Schools and Wayne State University canceled afternoon classes due to the outage.

Update 12:19 p.m.

Here's a statement from the Detroit Public Lighting Department:

The city’s public lighting grid suffered a major cable failure that has caused the entire grid to lose power at approximately 10:30 this morning.   The outage is affecting all customers on the PLD grid.  We have isolated the issue and are working to restore power as soon as possible.

The city’s Public Lighting Department is working closely with DTE during this process.  Mayor Mike Duggan and representatives of DTE will provide further details a 2PM press briefing at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters.

11:26 a.m.

A power outage affecting parts of Detroit closed several government buildings, including some courthouses, and left intersections without working traffic lights.

The outage happened about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Sean MacEntee / creative commons

Federal law enforcement agencies are warning online shoppers to be on the lookout for potential scams this “Cyber Monday” and beyond.

The Monday after Thanksgiving has become the busiest online shopping day of the year for American consumers.

And the FBI says it’s noticed a significant uptick in fraud schemes that start then, and last through the holiday season.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Immigration activists worry that President Obama’s recent executive order could bring scammers out of the shadows.

The new program could let up to five million currently undocumented people gain at least temporary legal status in the US.

For immigrant advocates, the concern is unscrupulous people peddling bad or even phony “help” with the application process.

creative commons

Does a stretch of unseasonable warmth do much to influence people’s views on climate change?

One recent study suggests the answer is: No.

This study looked at two big data points. One was weather data for the winter of 2012, an unusually warm one across most of the country—and the 4th-warmest on record for the contiguous US as a whole.

The Parade Company / via city of Detroit

Things might be a little tighter than usual at Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade this year.

The parade will take its usual route down Woodward Avenue. But there will be several “pinch points” due to ongoing construction for the M-1 rail project.

City spokesman John Roach says that means parade-watching will be restricted in some areas.

Dennis Allain Renderings

The Detroit City Council has postponed a key vote for the city’s new hockey arena.

Developer Olympia Entertainment asked Council to delay re-zoning for the new Detroit Red Wings arena, slated to open in 2017. Olympia is the development arm of businesses run by the Ilitch family, owners of the Red Wings.

Wayne County plans to foreclose on a record number of properties next year.

The county has begun issuing notices to almost 75,000 properties for delinquent taxes. Of those, more than 80%--about 62,000—are located in Detroit.

The county is required, by state law, to auction off all properties at least three years behind on property taxes.

Detroit won’t be quite ready to exit bankruptcy until next month, city lawyers told Judge Steven Rhodes at a hearing Monday.

Judge Rhodes has already approved the city’s bankruptcy restructuring plan. But the city must still complete a couple steps before it officially leaves Chapter 9.

It needs to make sure its two-year budget reflects the plan’s terms, and release details of the plan to financial markets.

via Wayne State University

Some renters in and around downtown Detroit are exploring the idea of a tenants’ union.

A group of them met this past weekend to discuss the possibility.

Some renters in the city’s revived downtown and midtown areas worry that as the real estate market heats up, they’ll be pushed out by higher rents.

Tenants in subsidized housing are particularly concerned about being displaced for market-rate units.

via newwaysministry.org

A Catholic support group for families with gay children is meeting in a private spot in suburban Detroit today, rather than a Detroit church as planned.

That’s because the Detroit Archdiocese wouldn’t permit Fortunate Families, a support group for Catholic families with LGBT children, to meet there.

“The downtown Archdiocese people denied our use of any Catholic facility,” said Tom Nelson, who helps run the Michigan chapter of Fortunate Families with his wife Linda Karle-Nelson. “Which came as quite a shock to us, because we’d done this before.”

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Many in Detroit's immigrant community are welcoming President Obama’s change of course on immigration.

The crowd at Detroit’s El Nacimiento restaurant listened quietly as the president outlined his executive order Thursday night, but broke into cheers and shouts of “bravo!” as he wrapped up.

The order makes a number of changes to immigration policy, affecting up to five million currently undocumented people.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

More Detroiters living next to vacant lots will get a chance to buy them.

The city is ramping up a program to sell “side lots” to neighboring homeowners for just $100. The Detroit City Council recently transferred thousands of properties to the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which is running the program.

The land bank currently has a little more than 7000 properties in its inventory, says spokesman Craig Fahle.

Enrollment in the Detroit Public Schools is down slightly from last year—but the district is calling that a victory after years of double-digit enrollment declines.

According to unofficial data released Tuesday, the district counts 47,238 students across its 97 schools.

That’s down 3.4% from the prior year. But district spokesman Steve Wasko said it beat the district’s own budget targets, as well as demographer’s projections.

user BGilbow / Flickr

Metro Detroiters hard-hit by last summer’s flash floods have a bit more time to apply for federal aid.

The deadline to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency was November 24.

But FEMA officials are now pushing it back to December 14.

They say that about 120,000 people have registered for aid so far — but they think up to 30,000 more should do so.

Total flood damage is estimated at more than $1 billion.

Lex Dodson

The deadline for people affected by last summer’s flooding in Metro Detroit to apply for most federal assistance is quickly approaching.

The Small Business Administration has approved at least $63 million in long-term, low-interest loans so far.

“As more and more loans are approved, that number will continue to grow,” says SBA spokesman Michael Peacock.

The “disaster loans” are available to homeowners, renters, businesses and non-profits.

The group tasked with making sure post-bankruptcy Detroit stays solvent met for the first time Wednesday.

The nine-member Detroit financial review commission will serve as the last word on the city’s financial decisions for at least three years.

The panel will review and approve all city budgets, major contracts and collective bargaining agreements during that “control period.”

via grandtraverseacademy.mi.schoolwebpages.com

A Traverse City school is closed this week due to a whooping cough outbreak.

County health officials say there are 10 confirmed of the illness also known as pertussis at Grand Traverse Academy, with more than 80 additional cases considered “probable.”

The school is closed, and all sports and extracurricular activities canceled, until Monday.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Having secured court approval for its bankruptcy restructuring last week, Detroit is now ready to emerge from bankruptcy.

But some Detroit residents and activists say that plan sacrificed both democracy and the public interest.

The group Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management says the bankruptcy process was about imposing financial solutions on social and political problems.

And they believe the newly-approved “plan of adjustment” won’t benefit the vast majority of Detroiters.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A prominent Palestinian-American activist faces up to ten years in prison and the loss of her US citizenship after being found guilty of immigration fraud.

Rasmea Odeh, 67, was convicted in a Detroit federal court Monday of gaining US naturalization and citizenship unlawfully.

Odeh was convicted by an Israeli military court of involvement in a 1969 Jerusalem bombing. She did not disclose that information on immigration papers, according to federal officials.

Part of the Diego Rivera mural in the DIA. Foundations pulled together to help save the art in the museum.
Joseph Gallegos / Flickr

It’s hard not be awed by the scale and detail in Diego Rivera’s Depression-era “Detroit industry” murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, but these scenes depicting both the splendor and hardship of an industrial powerhouse were potentially at risk in the city’s bankruptcy.

That’s because right now, Detroit owns the museum and its world-class collection.

And that made Detroit’s creditors—collectively owed billions of dollars—ask: Why shouldn’t the city have to sell at least some of it to pay them?

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, says the idea was offensive.

“The idea that the art could actually be auctioned off was so … antithetical to our idea of democracy and the role of cultural organizations.”

But that fear actually turned out to be an important lever in the bankruptcy case.

via detroiteasternmarket.com

JPMorgan Chase is lending some of its people to development-boosting efforts in Detroit.

12 JP Morgan employees will spend much of this month working with non-profit groups in the city as part of the new Detroit Service Corps.

The volunteer effort is meant to complement the financial services company's five-year, $100 million investment in a number of Detroit projects, says Tasha Tabron of the JP Morgan Chase Foundation.

screen grab

President Obama told a Detroit crowd Saturday that Democrats can pull off some big victories in Michigan races this Tuesday – if there’s a “sense of urgency” about getting out the vote.

The president rallied an exuberant crowd of more than 6,000 on the Wayne State University campus.

He urged them to sustain that energy over the next three days, and use it to get fellow Democrats to the polls.      

Kenny Karpov / via Facebook

With just days to go before the election, the Michigan Governor’s race appears too close to call.

But one thing is for sure: if Democrat Mark Schauer is going to have a shot, voters in heavily-Democratic Detroit need to turn out.

Even though Michigan politics have changed a lot over the years, that one fact has stayed pretty much the same for Democrats in statewide races.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Detroit developer who just bought a massive chunk of city land says he wants to help community groups revitalize their own neighborhoods.

Herb Strather bought a package of more than 6000 properties from the Wayne County tax foreclosure auction for just over $3 million.

That “blight bundle” was actually meant to discourage bidders from buying up huge numbers of cheap, distressed properties.

But Strather says the land was still at risk of going to “outside” investors, and he bid to prevent that.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The final round of the annual Wayne County property tax foreclosure auction closed on Tuesday.

This year, about 24,000 properties—the vast majority located in Detroit--were up for auction over two rounds.

The auction has become a real estate mega-event in recent years, as the number of tax-foreclosed properties has soared, and bidding moved online.

More than 7000 of the properties up for auction this year were believed to be occupied.

Detroit’s bankruptcy trial wrapped up Monday with closing arguments.

At issue: whether the city’s plan of adjustment to restructure its debt is “fair and equitable” to its various creditors, as required by Chapter 9 of the municipal bankruptcy code.

Judge Steven Rhodes must also decide if the plan is “feasible”—whether Detroit can balance its books and avoid slipping back into bankruptcy.

Bonham

The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn has acquired one of the world’s foremost digital artifacts: an Apple-1 computer.

As the first pre-assembled personal computer ever sold, the Apple-1 marked a key moment at the start of the digital age.

The Henry Ford got one of 50 hand-built in 1976 by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak--in fellow co-founder Steve Jobs’s family garage.

Executive Vice President Christian Overland said the Henry Ford’s collection is all about new ideas and innovations--and the Apple-1 fits in perfectly.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Republican candidate for Congress David Trott was the subject of some street theater this week.

Trott is running for the U.S. House seat in Metro Detroit’s 11th district.

He’s also a former co-owner of the Trott & Trott law firm, which specializes in home foreclosure work on behalf of banks. It prospered during the recent housing crisis, foreclosing on up to 80,000 homes in 2009 alone.

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