During an interview Monday with WILS-AM in Lansing, Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, said the returning troops he has talked with "indicate to me that 80 to 85 percent, in a conservative fashion, of (Iraq) is reasonably under control, at least as well as Detroit or Chicago or any of our other big cities. That's an encouraging sign."
Program host Jack Ebling remarked, "I've never heard Iraq compared to Detroit before."
Walberg responded: "Well, in fact, in many places it's as safe and cared for as Detroit or Harvey, Illinois, or some other places that have trouble with armed violence that takes place on occasion."
Detroit and Chicago had higher rates of murder, assault, robbery, burglary and car theft than the nation as a whole in 2005, according to FBI statistics. Harvey is an economically depressed suburb of Chicago with about 30,000 residents — about 80 percent of whom are black, the same proportion as in Detroit.
"It's absurd to compare Detroit and Iraq in any way," James Canning, the spokesman for Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, for years people have beat up on the city of Detroit. Detroit is the word for negative. We are working very hard to transform that image of our city."
Harvey Mayor Eric J. Kellogg said Walberg's comments take "racial profiling and stereotyping to extreme levels."
"Even though our country appears to have accomplish(ed) great gains in racial harmony, we still have members of congress who suffer from the highest levels of ignorance and stupidity," Kellogg said in a statement.
Walberg was born in Chicago, grew up on the city's south side and is an ordained minister. He is in his first term in the U.S. House, serving a district that includes Branch, Eaton, Hillsdale, Jackson and Lenawee counties, and parts of Calhoun and Washtenaw counties.
The district in south central Michigan is 90.1 percent white and 5.7 percent black, with other races and mixed-race persons comprising the remainder, according to 2000 U.S. Census data.
Walberg spokesman Matt Lahr said in a statement that the congressman "frequently shares sentiments expressed to him by the soldiers and veterans he meets at Walter Reed Hospital or the (Veterans Affairs) hospital in Battle Creek.
"These soldiers have expressed optimism to the congressman about the safety and security of the majority of Iraq. There are still major challenges in Iraq, especially in the Anbar province and Sadr City," said Lahr, who declined to respond to the comments from the Detroit mayor's office.
State Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer demanded Wednesday that Walberg apologize to his constituents and Detroit residents.
"To compare our largest city to Iraq, a country currently in the middle of a bloody civil war where thousands of our troops and tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, many by beheading and torture, is unconscionable," Brewer said in a news release. "His comments and rubber stamp approval of President Bush's polices, including the plans for massive troop escalation, are out of touch with Michigan voters and what is needed to resolve this conflict."