Detroiters went to the polls in the August primary election to decide the final candidates in the race for mayor. They took advantage of another chance to break from tradition to make a discriminating choice. Rather than disappoint, they revolutionized the process of change and sent shockwaves across the political landscape. So decisive was the vote that the general election will be a mere formality.
After Mike Duggan was officially kicked off the ballot, favorite son Benny Napoleon, a charismatic, attractive political option, was expected to captivate voters and dominate the campaign. The Napoleon camp coasted, believing that Duggan could not elicit significant voter interest as a write-in candidate. The outcome, however, was more like a near death experience for Napoleon.
Over what was thought to be a super-popular, shoo-in candidate, Duggan garnered 46-percent of the total vote, emerging the top vote getter in a crowded field. Napoleon was dealt a body blow and sent reeling.
As it turned out, a major bloc of Detroiters went to the polls and exhibited unprecedented sophistication and a mission to end the destructive parochialism of the past. That Duggan is white and Napoleon black apparently didn’t matter.
The electorate apparently felt that Napoleon’s camp was too willing to advance a sometimes veiled, and sometimes not-so-veiled divisive “us versus them” ideology to advance his political ends. Duggan was painted as an outsider, the candidate of the white suburban corporate elite. But voters scoffed at the undercurrent that Detroit is about to be taken over by outside interests. Black investment, after all, had been nothing more than a trickle for decades. And for the Napoleon camp to play the race card going forward will jeopardize his re-election for sheriff — or county executive should he choose to go that route.
It is too late for Napoleon to broaden his support base. Voters ignored the hoopla and hyperbole to critically examine the real prospect that organized labor might control Napoleon’s political lifeline and hold the city’s future hostage to its demands. Duggan, they concluded, would have a less parochial sense of the constituency and greater skill at building alliances and formulating critical partnerships with investors for the common good.
It may also be too late for Napoleon to modify the tone of his campaign, hone his message and offer a more comprehensive, realistic and understandable vision. Wary from waiting for campaign promises to reach their neighborhoods, voters signaled they want immediate attention to unmet public needs; city services, crime, inadequate trash pickup, neglected parks and playgrounds, unrepaired roads, shabby bus services and burned out homes. They are fed up with unattended vacant lots littered with garbage, old mattresses and abandoned cars.
Detroiters are finally taking seriously the need for change. Napoleon is beyond explaining how he would end bureaucratic inertia and implement sensible reforms that advance the city’s transformation and enrichment. There will be no last ditch rally to the side of the candidate seen as a status quo politician who would lead voters further away from wholesome neighborhoods and business communities.
With investment in the downtown comes a warm feeling of renewal and optimism. The expectations of residents are heightened because Detroiters believe Duggan more than Napoleon has a vision and a plan to reverse the city’s misfortunes.
So for all intents and purposes, the election is over. The turnout was low (17 percent of registered voters). But there’s reason to believe that if 100 percent of nonvoters participated, the outcome would have broken the same way as those who voted. The city, after all, has a homogeneous, ideologically loyal population. And the tendency is for people to coalesce around the perceived winner.
Napoleon’s best hope is that Duggan is charged and convicted of a heinous crime in the next couple of months. But that’s as much of a long shot as Napoleon’s chances of becoming the next mayor. Game over!