Detroit expatriates in Washington celebrated their city’s 313th birthday Thursday,dressed in their best Red Wings red,Tigers orange and Wolverine maize. Somewhere,maybe,there was a Lions fan.
But the “Ring in the 313” party – same as the city’s area code – wasn’t a celebration of Detroit’s past. It was a fundraiser to build its future through a new political action committee,Detroit XPAC,which connects former Detroiters to political causes back home.
“The most important thing you can do is be ambassadors for Detroit,” Rep. Gary Peters,D-Mich.,said. “The best days – even though we’ve had some challenges – are still ahead for us. But it’s going to take everybody getting together to make that happen.”
Peters represents about half of Detroit-area residents and is running for retiring Carl Levin’s Senate seat.
The event was held at the Gallery Plan B in D.C.’s revitalized 14th Street corridor and featured artwork from Western Michigan alumna Susan Hostetler. One of the expats was Khalid Pitts,co-owner of Cork Restaurant & Wine Bar on 14th Street here. Pitts,who grew up on Red River and Schaefer in Detroit,is running for an at-large DC city council seat.
“I’ve seen this city make an arch,a change,in terms of getting its financial house in order,which Detroit is trying,” Pitts said. “We can be that shining city on the hill.”
Co-founder Julia Farber said XPAC will support political candidates who themselves support the Detroit area and Michigan. It supports candidates who want to invest in revitalization – to make Detroit more walkable,entice businesses to locate there and stay fiscally responsible. “We started this organization to give Michiganders all over the country a voice in our state,” Farber,29,a product certifier in Washington,said.
The political action committee,which launched in January,is not party affiliated.
Farber,who left Michigan for Chicago in 2006,grew up in Oak Park and Royal Oak. Her grandparents owned an office supply store at Seven Mile Road and Van Dyke.
“I felt guilty in Chicago,” Farber said. “When you move,you love the place that you move to but you realize how great it was where you grew up. We want it to thrive again.”
Farber said the event raised about $1,000 for the PAC.
Detroit faces significant challenges,including a recent bankruptcy and a 25 percent population decline between the 2000 and 2010 census counts. There are 80,000 buildings in need of demolition.
Yet Peters cited recent success in midtown Detroit,which has attracted young people along with a growing Wayne State University and arts scene.
“We’ve had just a massive exodus of people out of the city the past couple of decades. The number one issue is reversing that. Having dynamic areas like midtown and downtown is important,but it has to spread to other areas,” Peters said.
John Kern and Jacqueline Koney,who attended the fundraiser,are married and now live in Washington. Though they left Michigan in 1989,they never gave up on their city.
“Nobody ever knows anything about Detroit or the state,and it gets very tiring,” Koney,48,a nonprofit development director,said.
“But they think that they know a lot,” Kern,48,a teacher,said. “You are where you’re from – it’s really true. Michigan is always in our heart.”
Reach reporter Gavin Stern at [email protected] or 202-408-2735. SHFWire stories may be used by any news organization that credits the SHFWire and gives the reporter a byline.