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Detroit braces for emergency manager’s arrival

Doubts, fears outweigh hope

“I’m used to meeting resistance,” said Kevyn Orr, alluding to his bankruptcy court work.

DUANE BURLESON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“I’m used to meeting resistance,” said Kevyn Orr, alluding to his bankruptcy court work.

DETROIT — The City Council is both anxious and defiant. Public employees’ unions are bracing for a showdown. Protests and lawsuits are promised. Meanwhile, the mayor has simply stopped talking about what is on nearly everyone’s mind in this troubled city.

Tension is building here as a state-appointed emergency manager prepares to take control of the city government on Monday and begin restructuring of its finances and operations.

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‘‘There is anxiety. There is fear of the unknown,’’ said Yolanda Langston, president of a Service Employees International Union’s local in Detroit. ‘‘We don’t know which way he’s going to go.’’

Since Governor Rick Snyder announced the state takeover on March 1, there has been a dearth of information about the first steps in the long-awaited turnaround of Detroit.

But that will change at 12:01 a.m. Monday, when Kevyn D. Orr, a 54-year-old bankruptcy lawyer from Washington, is given the authority to fix the city however he sees fit.

Orr has spent the past week entrenched in a state office building in downtown Detroit, poring over briefing books and privately meeting with outside consultants and behind-the-scenes supporters in the city.

He has so far held back from talking with elected officials, union leaders, and creditors — even as speculation grows about how he will tackle the cash shortfalls and huge long-term liabilities that have crippled many city services for Detroit’s 700,000 residents.

Yet he knows that once he is on the job, he will have to generate cooperation for some painful measures, or force them on people who already resent his appointment.

‘‘I’m used to meeting resistance,’’ Orr said in an interview, alluding to his legal career in bankruptcy court. ‘‘What I’m hoping is that once we get into it and get rid of some of the initial angst and concern, we’ll move to the rule of reason.’’

The Republican governor’s decision to install an emergency manager for the Democratic-controlled city had been widely expected for months. Still, the reality of a state takeover of its largest city has left many here shocked and visibly nervous about the future.

At the City Council’s last meeting before the takeover, some residents vented their anger, while Council members wondered aloud if they would have any statutory powers at all once Orr took office.

‘‘I am angry, like so many thousands of other residents of Detroit,’’ said Kathy Montgomery, 64. ‘‘Angry that our governor and mayor decided we need an emergency manager. We must oppose them.’’

The emergency manager law gives Orr extraordinary powers to reshape the city, including eliminating City Council members’ salaries. ‘‘I don’t know what kind of role we can have,’’ said Brenda Jones, one of nine City Council members. ‘‘I feel that we are just sitting here as a symbolic symbol right now.’’

Mayor Dave Bing, who chose at the final hour not to oppose Orr’s appointment, will not publicly discuss what happens next. At a news conference on police initiatives, he declined to answer questions about Orr.

Resistance is building among some more vocal opponents, like the Council of Baptist Pastors, which has called for a lawsuit to block Orr’s appointment.

The president of the NAACP chapter, the Rev. Wendell Anthony, said he expected to see protests in the coming week. ‘‘It’s not about how we should brace for Mr. Orr,’’ he said. ‘‘Mr. Orr should brace for Detroit.’’

Reaction to Orr’s arrival has been more favorable among business leaders and other groups. Some union leaders said they hope dialogue can minimize job cuts.

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