State Rep. Phil Cavanagh, D-Redford Township, was the sixth of former Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh’s eight children.
The first-term state representative from the 17th District was just five years old when the late Jerome Cavanagh faced his greatest mayoral crisis — the 1967 Detroit riots.
“I have a picture embellished in my mind of my father standing over some burnt out and destroyed buildings, and I just saw everything drain from his face,” Cavanagh said.
Jerome Cavanagh left office in 1970, taught law at the University of Michigan and made one attempted political comeback — a failed 1974 bid for the Democratic nomination for governor, which he lost to U.S. Rep. Sander Levin.
Over the years, Cavanagh has examined news coverage of the riots and how it tarnished his father’s reputation.
“I look at that photo taken in 1967, my father died 12 years later of a heart attack — I think it tore his heart out,” Cavanagh said.
Phil Cavanagh expressed some regret that his father didn’t do more to heal the racial-divided Motor City.
“I’m told that (my father) easily would have won re-election and I personally wish he would have worked to restore the glory days,” Phil Cavanagh said.
Cavanagh also said the city’s racial tensions and fate may have been changed if it had been picked to host the 1968 Olympics.
“One guy decided Mexico City instead of Detroit,” Cavanagh said. “But if Detroit had had the Olympics in ’68, we would have been building, everybody (would) have been working. I don’t think the event ever takes place in ’67.”
“Off The Record” airs at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on Detroit Public TV. During the show, Cavanagh said embattled Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano should resign.
Cavanagh had other reflections of his family’s involvement in Michigan law and politics during the “Off The Record” overtime segment that can be viewed here.