In his first exclusive sit-down interview of 2010, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who will be inaugurated Jan. 8, tells Michigan Chronicle senior editor Bankole Thompson that he is optimistic about the future of the city, touting neighborhood development, light rail and the coming North American International Auto Show, and insists that he will fight to avoid bankruptcy or receivership under his watch.
Bing also lambastes AFSCME leadership for forestalling contract negotiations, noting it’s costing the city thousands a week, says he wants to see the next governor of Michigan commit to helping Detroit, and lashes out at his former opponent, Tom Barrow, who is calling for investigations into the last election, claiming ballot irregularities. Excerpts follow.
MICHIGAN CHRONICLE: What is Mayor Bing’s New Year resolution?
DAVE BING: Stay alive. (laughs)
MC: Stay alive?
DB: I don’t really have a resolution. I think as far as this city is concerned and my position with the city is to put the city on a firm financial footing. And there are some outstanding issues that need to be resolved before we do that. There is the Deficit Elimination Bond that has to be finalized. We’re getting close to that. That’s a $250 million that would give us some needed cash flow. I think the other big issue is finalizing the negotiations with the unions. And then there are some issues probably even before either one of them. In less than two weeks we have the auto show. So I want to make sure as we are on the global scene we are seen in a positive light with the change of administration, changes at City Council, that are all positive.
MC: On the deficit, how soon will the city be on the road to financial sanity?
DB: I wish I could give you a time and be very direct with you on that. I do think in the next 30 to 45 days we would have that bill passed. And once that happens there are some other things we think we can do for cash flow. Our collections are going very well, better than we expected. But that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. This year it’s going to be very difficult to balance the budget. As we look at the 2010-2011 budget that’s going to be just as tough. Because I don’t see a new revenue stream coming in and we’ve got to start thinking beyond month to month, quarter to quarter, year to year. We’ve got to start looking further out, I think.
MC: So the auditor general’s report will be indicting?
DB: I don’t that it will be indicting. I don’t think it’s going to be any different from anything that we know now and that we’ve been talking about. I’m hopeful that we don’t add substantially to the deficit based on what’s going on right now.There are some things that we are doing from an implementation standpoint I think is going to be positive. I do think 2010 will be a difficult year, but it will be one that I think we can manage, too.
MC: Has the city started implementing any of the recommendations from the Turnaround Team?
DB: Oh, some of those recommendations were implemented before the report came out because they were things we were already working on. A lot of the recommendations in that report our staff gave to the Turnaround Team. They prioritized some of them. We are well on our way to implementation of a lot of the 24 items we looked at for the next 12 months.
MC: Much of what you’ll do will depend on how willing the new Detroit City Council will be to work with you. What kind of relationship do you expect?
DB: Very positive. I’ve met with all of them, all of the new ones. I was meeting with them all along. And I’ve got good relationships, I think, with all of them. They truly understand the difficultly the city is in. I think I’m making them totally aware of how bad the situation is. So I think we are on the same page in terms of the things that we need to do to stop the bleeding and try to get us on a corrective path.
MC: What has changed so far since you’ve been in office?
DB: Telling the truth. Having factual data without trying to sanitize it for anybody. I think that’s been the most important thing that we’ve brought to the table. I do think if that were the case, Detroit would be looked upon worse than even we are today and so would the state of Michigan.
MC: So bankruptcy, receivership not under your watch?
DB: I don’t want it to happen under my watch. I will do everything in my power to make sure that doesn’t happen. And that is not only managing the resources we have here today but also going out to establish meaningful relationships with the surrounding counties, with the capital and with Washington, D.C. And those things I do think will pay dividends.