• U.S.

STATES & CITIES: Doleful Detroit

4 minute read

“We’ll have the dew and the dawn and the sunshine of a new era. No man or woman will ever go hungry in this town.”

So shouted a short, slender, red-headed young Irishman named Frank Murphy last September as he campaigned to be Mayor of Detroit. Times were hard but he would bring practical relief. Many good Detroit citizens were surprised when “Dew & Sunshine” Murphy was elected Mayor but many, many more were downright astonished when he, unlike most politicians, pitched in vigorously to execute his campaign promises.

Free lodging houses were opened by the city. Thousands of destitute families were put on the municipal relief list. The dole was advanced to its largest U. S. flowering. The fame of Detroit as a jobless haven spread and it was all the police could do to keep out the bums and tramps who flocked thither. Mayor Murphy was hailed on speaking trips about the country as the only U. S. municipal executive who had really sponsored a practical, inclusive relief program. Last spring at the Progressive Conference in Washington he got a thunderous ovation from Senators and representatives who wanted the Federal Government to adopt the Detroit system on a big scale (TIME, March 23).

Last week most of the dew, dawn and sunshine had vanished from Detroit. Its dole system under Mayor Murphy had brought the city to the brink of bankruptcy. Jobless relief had cost the city $17,000,000. Because of hard times $11,000,000 in taxes remained unpaid. It closed its fiscal year with a $14,500.000 deficit. Ten percent of the population was out of work. Thirty thousand fam-ilies—132,000 individuals—were being carried on the city’s relief rolls at a cost of $1,000,000 per month. Fraud and embezzlement had been found in the dole administration, after Ford Motor Co. officials had charged “criminal negligence” and cited hundreds of dole-getters who were also drawing Ford pay.

Strapped for cash, the city had tried to borrow in Wall Street. But the big bankers there, hostile to the dole and Mayor Murphy’s “radical methods,” refused all loans. Fortnight ago Detroit turned to its wealthiest citizen for aid, borrowed $5,000,000 from Henry Ford to meet payrolls. Last week a syndicate composed of Chrysler Corp., Packard Motor Car Co. and Fisher Finance Corp. agreed to advance the city $59,500,000 to meet its debts Sept. 15 provided it economized by cutting dole allowances. To save Detroit from fiscal chaos Mayor Murphy reluctantly consented to a reduction in relief allowances to $300,000 per month.

Last week the City Council also voted over Mayor Murphy’s veto to close down the last of the municipal “flop houses” for single men. Eight hundred jobless, ousted from their quarters, marched to City Hall, crowded the galleries while their leaders pleaded for continuance of relief. Those who so chose—and they were few— could go to the county asylum at Eloise where they were given food and shelter on the technicality that they were suffering from the “disease of hunger.”

Controller of Detroit is Gracie Hall Roosevelt, cousin and brother-in-law of New York’s Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt.* In active charge of the city’s relief, he said: “If we had all this to do over, it would be done far more efficiently. There has been graft and negligence. . . . Industry in Detroit has unloaded more than 110,000 men on the taxpayer and the industrial leaders should take up their share of the burden.”

Discouraged, Mayor Murphy predicted “the hardest winter” ahead. Before it comes he must stand for reelection. Most observers think that after the voting he will join the jobless for whom he tried to do too much.

*Governor Roosevelt married his cousin Anna Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905.

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