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A Critical Moment in Detroit’s History

Daniel Cherrin was at the epicenter of change in Detroit after Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick resigned. His papers at the Bentley give researchers an inside look at a city and its leaders.

By Dan Shine

Daniel Cherrin says he delights in disorder, disarray, and disruption.

“I really like to rise above chaos and help bring calm to a situation,” he says.

It makes sense, then, that Cherrin, an attorney, lobbyist, and public relations professional, was tapped in 2008 to assist with the transition from the turbulent—and criminal—tenure of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to his appointed successor, Kenneth Cockrel Jr.

“From the time Ken knew he was going to be mayor and the time he took office was a two-week span,” says Cherrin, who served as communications director and press secretary. “In those two weeks, we had to recreate government, restore the trust and faith in the city of Detroit, and start to put together a new government to move the city forward.”

The transition period, especially early on, was eyeopening, Cherrin says. He passed ex-Mayor Kilpatrick leaving city hall as he was heading in. Some of the ex-mayor’s belongings, including a varsity letter jacket, were still in a closet. And some of Kilpatrick’s appointees were still milling around the mayor’s office, unaware that they were now unappointed.

“It was an interesting and awkward time,” Cherrin says.

His main tasks were working with others to make sure the transition from the Kilpatrick administration to the Cockrel administration was a smooth one, and dealing with the media. Interest in the disgraced— and later imprisoned—former mayor was running high at the time, and Cherrin was often showered with Freedom of Information Act requests from local media.

“I enjoyed it because I was able to see what the media was interested in, and frankly it was a chance for me to learn a little bit about what was going on,” he says.

His job also gave him an education about city services. One day, a television reporter called him and told him they found a dog chained to a fence in southwest Detroit. The reporter wanted to know what he was going to do about it. Cherrin told her to call the dog pound. “She told me, ‘You’re the dog pound,’” Cherrin recalls. “I said, ‘Really? I am?’ I had no idea. I was still learning all the city operations myself.”

When Dave Bing defeated Cockrel in a special election to fill the remainder of Kilpatrick’s term, Cherrin was out of a job.

“I describe it as probably the best eight months of my professional life,” he says. “It was a tremendous honor and privilege to be able to be a part of the city at this time in the city’s history.”

Cherrin donated his papers from his time as communications director to the Bentley Historical Library. They include documents on the city’s finances during the 2008 economic crisis, various mayoral resolutions, speeches Mayor Cockrel gave, and letters to President George W. Bush and mayors around the country asking for support during the auto bailout.

“It’s a window into Detroit’s history that I could share, and I feel that Mayor Cockrel’s time was an important time,” he says. “We tend to gloss over it and go from Mayor Kilpatrick to Mayor Bing without Cockrel in the middle. I want to make sure he’s part of the history. “He wasn’t elected mayor, but he was the right person for that job.”