Yesterday, Detroiters spoke loud and clear, despite the expected low voter turnout, that they want former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon to advance to the general election, thus creating a dramatic and unprecedented political race.
For months we’ve seen a mayoral field that attracted nearly 20 candidates, most of whom were aware of the fact that they were not qualified to become the chief executive of this great city, and knew they had no chance of winning.
These nonentities were edging close to reducing the mayor’s race to a political cartoon or joke when it was, by necessity, an incredibly serious search for leadership of this city in the era of chapter 9 bankruptcy and the presence of an emergency manager.
The last series of debates did not reveal a lot, much to the chagrin of all present, and that includes debate organizers. What was supposed to have been an opportunity for candidate to offer taxpaying residents meaningful dialogue, including laying out real and feasible plans became an anger and frustration conference.
It was an agony to attend some of the primary debates. I felt that Detroit was being cheated out of a real conversation about this city’s future that encompasses all of the issues that have contributed to where the city finds itself today.
And so the decision by voters to select Napoleon and Duggan now allows for a real mayor’s race, one that is expected to be tough because passions will run high and we know there will be ideological, political and even personal clashes. But such is the nature of political races.
The decision by Detroit voters to choose Duggan and Napoleon on Tuesday ought to be respected. Moreover, it ought to be a lesson for political observers. Despite months of polls that have sometimes suggested otherwise, the best polling is on Election Day, and Detroit voters have demonstrated that they want a real race, minus the kind of posturing and toxic dialogue that clouded the mayoral primary.
This city’s future hangs in the balance under an emergency manager who has filed for bankruptcy on behalf the city because of its financial troubles. The future is uncertain for many Detroiters and the results from Tuesday night’s election is not a real comfort for those many who are disturbed about the general state of affairs, including inadequate city services.
Now we have two candidates who would show Detroit that each is capable of captaining the Detroit ship after the exit of an emergency manager or when the city is out of bankruptcy.
These two candidates for the next three months owe Detroit and obligation to not only tell the truth but also present clearly their plans for navigating out of its present situation.
There will much attention paid to this race, as much or more than any other mayor’s race in history because of the uniqueness of the campaign and the fact that one of the two candidates is White in an overwhelmingly Black city.
But beyond that, far more important than race, are issues that Detroit is grappling with, among them public safety, abandoned houses, vacant land, lack of public lighting and more.
Now is the time to see their plans and programs, and then let the voters once again decide. The mayor’s race has in a sense just begun and we must ask hard questions of the candidates. Those who seek to occupy the highest office of this city must first prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are worthy.
Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of the forthcoming 2014 book on Detroit titled “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future with Courage.” His most recent book “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” deals with the politics of the religious right, black theology and the president’s faith posture across a myriad of issues with an epilogue written by former White House spokesman Robert S. Weiner. He is a political analyst at WDET-101.9FM (Detroit Public Radio) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.bankolethompson.com