In reality, the die is yet to be cast for the next chapter of leadership in Detroit except in the case of State Reps. Fred Durhal and Lisa Howze who already announced they are seeking the job of mayor of Detroit.
However, the remaining possible candidates, including incumbent Mayor Dave Bing, Detroit Medical Center outgoing CEO Mike Duggan and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, have all but explicitly announced their run for mayor in 2013. Eventually all three men would have to make their wishes known and cast the die if they are seriously interested in the job.
In a recent interview with Crain’s Detroit Business, Mike Duggan, the only White candidate in the race and former Wayne County Prosecutor who is seen as a serious challenger to Bing, Napoleon, Howze and Durhal said all the right things that the average Detroiter wants to hear and can connect to.
Duggan said Detroit doesn’t need an emergency financial manager, something that strikes at the heart of the city’s progressive community, which has always viewed any type of outside influence or collaboration as a “takeover” because of the history of struggle in this community. The chord that Duggan struck also plays well with the labor movement in town, which has waged a statewide battle against EFM laws like the battle of Armageddon.
He goes further to dismiss Bing’s Detroit Works program, which plays to the anti-Bing sentiment and a segment of voters who believe the mayor hasn’t done much. He said what the city needs is good management, not an EFM or Detroit Works.
Duggan also opposed any more public authorities for Detroit like the one that’s been proposed through legislation in Lansing for the Public Lighting Department, again another opposition in line with the “takeover sentiment” in Detroit.
For any shrewd politician it makes sense to try to convince your critics — those who would vehemently oppose a White mayor for Detroit — before winning those who will easily agree with you.
Duggan’s task is to convince voters old and young, including those who witnessed a seismic shift when Coleman Alexander Young became the city’s first Black mayor, and how that transition led to major milestones breaking down racial barriers in several institutions in Detroit, including the police department.
Given all that the city has been through — the ineffective functioning of government including gradual erosion of the tax base — and where it was when it first elected Young as its first Black mayor, inspiring racial pride and a long line of Black elected officials with electoral power, to where it is now, is Detroit ready for Duggan?
It is a crucial question that voters will have to answer. It is a question that speaks to the essence of Detroit and whether the city is ready for another seismic shift 40 years after Young which makes the race for mayor of Detroit — with Duggan in it — a national race because of the implications the election has not only for Detroit, dubbed as the mecca for Black America, but also for others who talk about serious and meaningful transcending leadership that cuts across race.
“The mayor and the governor are going down a wrong road, and they are fragmenting the administrative responsibility in this city,” Duggan told Crain’s Detroit Business. “The next mayor is going to come in and find 14 or 15 authorities and a corporation counsel that doesn’t answer to anybody, and have to try to run government. The water department has been run by a federal judge for 30 years and the financial services under a financial advisory board. There is a pattern here,”
Napoleon is a very credible candidate with equal name recognition who poses the same threat to Duggan as Duggan does to him if both announce their decision to run at the end of the year. Napoleon, like Duggan, is armed with a law degree and is a former Detroit police chief with an understanding of municipal government as head of the most important apparatus in Detroit government.
I’ve received a lot of calls after Duggan’s interview from both supporters of Duggan and Napoleon. But one caller in particular asked why Napoleon is not out there like Duggan speaking to the issues and boldly challenging conventional wisdom that money is crucial but winning an election is also about winning the hearts and minds of voters. That is exactly what Duggan is doing through his interviews, speaking about issues that resonate with voters.
Mayor Bing seems to have the advantage because he is the incumbent, and if he decides to seek re-election the race for mayor shifts into high gear despite some of his challenges that may seem unattractive to voters. The mayor, depending on the campaign team he assembles, could make a case for re-election as any incumbent could.
Howze, a CPA by training, has long announced she was seeking the city’s top job but she has to be more aggressive and assertive on the issues if she is to be considered a serious contender.
Some in Detroit have longed for a female mayor and Howze will have to show whether her candidacy can make that dream become a reality or not.
Durhal has long been in the trenches of municipal government, from Highland Park to Detroit. But the former state representative, like Howze, will need to expand his political reach beyond his district and work to ensure his name rings a bell across the city in order to make a serious push.
Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of the forthcoming book “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future With Courage.” His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a foreward by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his personal page at www.bankolethompson.com.