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April 27, 1984 - Image 80

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-04-27

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Friday, April 27, 1984


Esther Shapiro: battler against fraud

A long-time friend of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young
is Detroit's acclaimed director of consumer affairs


Special to the Jewish News

A visitor to the 16th floor of Detroit's
Cadillac Tower Building, would have a dif-
ficult time not recognizing the offices of
Esther K. Shapiro, director of Detroit's
Consumer Affairs Department, and one of
the highest ranking Jews in the Coleman
Young administration.
The walls of the outside corridor are
literally papered with newspaper adver-
tisements offering the gullible everything
from miracle diet pills to Morgan silver
dollars (the latter ad even ran in the Wall
Street Journal). Recently, a hand-lettered
sign identifying the gallery as the "Hall of
Fraud" was added to the display. It was
made necessary, as Shapiro later ex-
plained, because too many visiting con-
sumers thought the ads were hanging on
the wall because they had received the offi-
cial endorsement of her agency.
That is probably the only example of a
communications gap existing between
Shapiro and area consumers. Widely
known through her daily broadcasts over
WWJ Radio, Shapiro is celebrating her
tenth anniversary as director of the city
agency. "When I took the position," she
explains, "there were more cities with con-
sumer directors. There was a big burst of
consumer consciousness in the late 1960s
and early 1970s and a lot of federal funding
for that kind of thing.
"But in many cases, when the federal
funding gave out, so did the agencies. In
other areas, they became a political foot-
ball. You made some alderman unhappy
because you attacked his automobile
dealership or his insurance agency, so he
cut the budget of the consumer agency.
"We have a professional society —
NACAA (National Association of Con-
sumer Agency Administrators) — whose
title is almost longer than the eligible list
of members. The membership is comprised
of department heads like myself, but most
of the agencies are on a county or state
level. Very few cities have their own con-
sumer affairs departments. There's New
York (once headed by Bess Myerson, the
1945 Miss America); Cleveland, whose
agency is closely modeled after this one;
Cincinnati, Washington, D.C. The Los .
Angeles agency is administered by the

In a photograph taken at a 1965 kosher
butcher's dinner are, from left, State
Senator Jack Faxon, Esther Shapiro's
husband Harold who was a butcher's union
representative, and then-State Senator
Coleman Young (wearing a kippah).

Photo by Benyas-Kaufman

Esther Shapiro and her "Hall of Fraud"

A sign had to be added because too many visiting consumers thought the advertisements were hanging on the wall because they had
received the official endorsement of her agency.

The shrinkage of consumer agencies
parallels the disappearance of consumer
oriented "Action Line" features in the na-
tion's newspapers. But Shapiro doesn't see
the latter as a totally negative develop-
ment. "Much of what was once relegated to
the consumer pages is now considered hard
news: recalls, environmental problems,
studies of the effects of food additives, the
enforcement of existing laws. A newspaper
had to maintain a large staff just to deal
with the problem-solving aspects of the
consumer features. And now we have a na-
tional administration that is just not sym-
pathetic to the kind of consumer protection
we feel is necessary. So that even where
you have an old established agency like the
Federal Trade Commission, or the Food
and Drug Administration, budgets and
staff have both been slashed. There is a
different attitude toward enforcement.",
Clearly warming to her subject, Shap-
iro said, "I better stop or I'll have trouble
keeping this clean. Don't forget who I work
for," she joked, "I've learned a lot of his
Certainly Shapiro is one of the most
highly visible of the Jews in Coleman
Young's inner circle. Officially, she -is out-
ranked by Tina Bassett (nee Abrams), di-

rector of public information. Sid Rosen,
who is in charge of Detroit's senior citizens
program, is on the same level as Shapiro,
but few outside the administration would
recognize his name.
How does Shapiro feel about the per-
sistent rumor that Coleman Young doesn't
like Jews?
Over lunch at Franklin Hills Country
Club in late December, this reporter was
told that "Coleman Young hates whites —
and especially Jews." The speaker was the
wife of ore of the pioneers in discount mer-
chandising. Her husband, who for many
years operated a landmark downtown De-
troit department store, and who fought
hard for the rights of blacks, was present.
He did not disagree.
While there have been no allegations
of "Hymie" type remarks having been
made by Young, it was not the first time
the accusation has surfaced.
"That's ridiculous," Shapiro explodes.
"He (Young) happens to be a very old
friend, which is not how I got my job. We
have been very close friends for years. We
go back to a time when it was very difficult
for whites and blacks to have a social life
together. We were a very (racially) mixed
group and a lot of our best friends were
By now, Shapiro is bristling. "Quite a
lot of mayor's friends are Jews. Ernest
Goodman (the noted civil rights attorney)
is a very trusted adviser and has been put
by the mayor on some very sensitive public
committees. He is on the committee study-
ing the Detroit Institute of Arts situation
and was a member of the committee on
hunger and malnutrition.
"Morris Gleicher (the publicist) ran
his first campaign. I've often seen the
mayor at the home of Sid and Maxine Ro-

sen. Last spring, when the mayor cele-
brated his 65th birthday, the private party
at the Caucus Club in his honor was given
by his old friends Max and Lainie Pincus.
"Then there's Nate Chalnick, who just
retired as director of the City Airport. The
mayor hired him when no one else did. And
when Chalnick came under fire from De-
troit News columnist Pete Waidmeir, who
did everything but burn down the airport

I'm in a very sensitive
position ... If the mayor
didn't trust me or didn't
like me, you better believe
that I wouldn't be here.

to try to get rid of him, the mayor never
yielded an inch.
"I'm in a very sensitive position. I con-
trol an awful lot of businesses through the
issuing of licenses. If the mayor didn't trust
me or didn't like me, you better believe
that I wouldn't be here. Certainly the
mayor doesn't choose his friends on the
basis of their ethnic backgrounds. You just
can not say that he doesn't trust Jews."
Shapiro does not deny, though, that it
is hard to get access to Mayor Young, "but
it's difficult for-everyone — lawyers, state
senators. They all have to see his aides. I
suppose that if the mayor says 'good morn-
ing' to someone they're liable to say 'what
does he mean by that? You can tell he's
anti-Semitic.' It's just stupid.
"Recently the mayor called me in and

Continued on Page 44

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