By Charles Sercombe
He was one of the city’s most polarizing elected officials in recent times.
And since his departure from City Council, it’s been oddly quiet – well, at least for now.
There’s little in-between about former Councilmember Scott Klein: you were either a supporter or a hater. OK, even some of his supporters occasionally cringed.
But one thing critics and supporters agree on is that Klein was passionate about the city and its politics.
Now that he’s out of office, after losing his bid for re-election in the August primary, Klein shared his thoughts on his six years in office – six years that covered some significant historical moments for Hamtramck.
Politics, he said, came easy to him. His grandfather was a councilmember for a city in Illinois and his father was the Republican Party Chair for central Missouri.
At first glance, the openly gay politician, who sides with the liberal side of the Democratic Party, seems to have fallen far from his family tree. Not really, though, he says.
“I consider myself fairly conservative,” he said.
In fact he considers himself more Libertarian, at least the part of that idealogy that insists the government keep its hands off everyone’s personal life.
Which seems odd considering he was the architect of the controversial gay rights anti-discrimination ordinance that caused a major dust-up two years ago. That debate pitched gay supporters against a well-organized opposition that tapped into the city’s conservative Catholic and Muslim communities.
The ordinance was defeated by a margin of 600 votes.
That’s one issue Klein says he has come to regret.
“It was a mistake, the way it was handled,” Klein said. “There was too much language in the ordinance, so there were a lot of reasons to oppose it.”
Klein was also in the forefront of the “call to prayer” debate that ultimately led to the regulation of when the Muslim call to prayer could be broadcast. Those opposed to the call to prayer came out in force and jammed Council Chambers to vent their anger.
The issue received coverage from the international press. And guess who was often front and center in the debate? Yes, Scott Klein, who championed the cause under First Amendment Rights.
It wasn’t all about controversy, though. Even his critics admit Klein did a lot of behind-the-scenes work to bring in projects and money to the city. Klein spearheaded the drive to keep the state Department of Human Services office not only here in Hamtramck, but also to construct a new regional office in Hamtramck.
That office, which is set to open soon, will mean hundreds of workers and clients will be here in town each weekday, which means a major boost for local businesses.
Klein also worked to re-establish the DDA and the creation of the Economic Development Corporation, two agencies that are working to attract additional development and businesses.
Before he was elected to council, the 49-year-old served on the city’s first successful Charter Revision Commission. That commission was the only commission over the last several decades to not only produce a new charter but to convince voters to adopt it. The new charter has forever changed Hamtramck’s form of government. Instead of having a mayor and council run the day-to-day business, the city is now run by a professional city manager.
The new government structure has brought a world of difference to the city. Instead of having the mayor and council constantly fight and bicker, the heated political fights have cooled off. Now, in City Hall, there is a more orderly way of taking care of business, instead of the constant feeling the city was about to fall apart.
Klein said the new government structure allows the council to step away from “micro-managing” to become “the face of the city.”
So, in his years in public office, what surprised him the most?
“The divisiveness in the community,” he said.
As for his future plans, he is looking for full-time work and says he has no desire to run for office.
“I’m done,” he said.
But he can still be unpredictable and maybe a little stubborn. A new photo of him was needed, but Klein failed to return repeated phone calls to meet up with a photographer. Perhaps when he says he’s done, he’s really done.