Facing bankruptcy, Detroit to spend $330K on Washington lobbyists

The mayor of Detroit has signed a $330,000 contract with a team of Washington lobbyists as he tries to save the city from bankruptcy.

The office of Mayor Dave Bing has employed Clark Hill, a law and lobby firm, to work on “funding for municipal government activities, including workforce development, education, public safety, transportation and housing,” according to public documents filed last week.

The city will pay Clark Hill a set fee of $330,000 for the contract, which will run until the end of the year, Deputy Detroit Mayor Kirk Lewis told The Hill.

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The hiring comes as Detroit grapples with severe budget shortfalls that have pushed the city to the brink of bankruptcy. Auditors have estimated the city could run out of money as early as next month, and at least one Democrat on Capitol Hill has called for a federal bailout of the city.

Bing’s administration, meanwhile, is in a race to cut costs, and released a budget blueprint for the city on Monday that would shave $250 million in expenses and lay off more than 2,500 city workers.

Given the city’s focus on trimming the city’s budget, the hiring of lobbyists is likely to draw scrutiny. Deputy Mayor Kirk told The Hill the contract was necessary to give the city a voice on Capitol Hill.

“The Bing administration has retained Clark Hill, specifically, Lucius Vassar, for federal lobbying for the services listed on the form, because understands the critical need to have an advocate for issues affecting the City of Detroit on Capitol Hill,” Kirk said.

Requests for comment to Clark Hill were not immediately returned.

The last K Street firm to work for Detroit was K&L Gates. That relationship ended last year after the city failed to pay more than $350,000 in unpaid bills running back to April 2009, according to the Blog of Legal Times

K&L Gates terminated its lobbying contract with Detroit at the end of 2011, and Kirk said the matter is closed.

“The bill-paying issues [with K&L Gates] have been resolved and the Bing administration continues to work to execute its plan to eliminate the city’s deficit/financial crisis,” Kirk said.

K&L Gates did not immediately return request for comment.

Michigan Rep. Hansen Clarke (D), whose district covers part of Detroit, is already pushing for Congress to provide emergency federal funding for Detroit. He pleaded last month for a $1 billion bailout of the city, and in January personally lobbied President Obama to provide “emergency aid” from federal agencies. 

“Bottom line, I’m asking for federal aid to avoid massive layoffs, especially for out public safety officers,” Clarke said in January. “That’s what we actually need to attract businesses here who create jobs. We need safe streets and we need good schools.”

Four lobbyists at Clark Hill with a mixture of Washington and municipal experience will be working on the Detroit account. 

The team includes Lucius Vassar, who previously worked for the Detroit city government in a variety of roles, including as chief administrative officer; Peter Dugas, a former deputy assistant secretary for the Treasury Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs; and Charles Spies, who was chief financial officer and counsel for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. Lobbyist Reginald Turner is also listed on the contract.

— Kevin Bogardus contributed to this report.

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