DETROIT, March 25 (Reuters) - U.S. automakers joined other Michigan businesses on Monday in donating $8 million for new ambulances and police cars to Detroit as state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr took over running the destitute city.
General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, Chrysler Group LLC, which have their headquarters in the Detroit area, joined Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Quicken Loans and other area companies in the effort, Mayor Dave Bing announced.
“This is an unprecedented collaboration between the business community and the mayor’s office,” said Bing.
The effort to fund the ambulances and police cruisers was led by Roger Penske, chief executive of Penske Automotive Group Inc, who appeared with Bing at a press conference.
The donation came as bankruptcy lawyer Orr started the job of Detroit emergency financial manager on Monday. He was recruited by Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder to clean up the finances of the city, which according to a state government report is running a $100 million budget deficit this fiscal year and has $14 billion in long-term debt and liabilities.
Orr, a Washington, D.C.-based bankruptcy lawyer who worked on the Chrysler bankruptcy and restructuring in 2009, is unlikely to receive large amounts of money from the federal or state governments to bail out Detroit.
The city’s fleet of ambulances is aging and prone to mechanical failures. Over the past three months, emergency responders have often operated with just 10 to 14 ambulances, instead of the 19 they are supposed to have, because the units are constantly breaking down, city officials said.
Mayor Bing said some of the ambulances have 250,000 to 300,000 miles on them and desperately need to be replaced.
On Jan. 29, two children, ages 4 and 6, were unconscious after a fire consumed their west-side Detroit home. As firefighters tried to resuscitate the children, paramedics failed to arrive. So firefighters rushed the two children in a fire rig to the hospital. The 6-year-old died, and his brother barely survived.
Also on Orr’s first day, protesters are expected to gather in front of Detroit’s city hall. Orr will have sweeping powers to alter union contracts, lay off workers, and merge or close whole departments of city government.
His appointment strips the elected mayor and city council of much of their power.
Protest leaders object to a manager they have not elected. Demonstrators are being bused to Cleveland to protest at an office of Orr’s former law firm, Jones Day.
So far, protests over the state takeover of Detroit have been sparsely attended and peaceful.
Last Friday, Chicago-based civil rights activist the Reverend Jesse Jackson appeared at Detroit’s city hall to criticize the appointment.
On Saturday, about 500 people gathered the historic King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, where black leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. delivered speeches in the 1960s. Protesters pledged an escalation of civil disobedience, which has included attempts to clog freeways with slow-moving cars and rallying outside government buildings.
“We’re going into a special week. For the Christians, it’s Holy Week,” David Alexander Bullock, an activist and pastor, said of the week leading up to Easter Sunday. “For the emergency manager, it’s Hell Week.”