Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has escaped open criticism for failing to make significant progress in transforming the city. That should not, however, be interpreted as job approval. There is reason to believe that the business community is disillusioned with the beleaguered executive.
I come to that conclusion based on personal experience that goes back to late 2000 or early 2001. I was an editorial writer/columnist for The Detroit News. Then-Mayor Dennis Archer had yet to make a decision whether to seek a third term.
I was invited to lunch by a “representative” — whose name I won’t reveal – from what was then Detroit Renaissance. Its members included the top CEOs in the region, including Dave Bing.
The purpose of the meeting was to ask who I thought would be a good candidate to run against Archer should he decide to enter the race. I was told the corporate community was upset with Archer about the pace of, if not lack of progress in the city.
Archer was first elected on the theme of “Let the Future Begin.” The future, however, never got off the ground during his eight-year tenure. In fact, it ground to a halt.
It wasn’t that the group thought Archer was a bad guy. He was and is a likable, accomplished individual. The concerned expressed by the Detroit Renaissance representative was that Archer had rejected out of hand several “best practices” studies the organization had financed for his benefit, along with other recommendations to improve the city.
The group experienced a similar snubbing from Mayor Coleman Young, who unceremoniously rejected the Detroit Strategic Plan drawn up by the organization years earlier. It’s fair to say the corporate community shed no tears when Archer chose not to seek reelection.
Around the same time, high level “representatives” of the Detroit Regional Chamber encouraged me to take the temperature of then-State Representative Kwame Kilpatrick to see if he might be talked into running against Archer. I met twice with Kwame to let him know that the business organization might be interested in financing his mayoral campaign. The rest is history.
Mayor Bing also was elected with a fanfare equal to that of his predecessors. He too enjoyed enormous business and public backing, and was once described as being “Detroit’s last best hope.”
This mayor also squandered opportunities. EMS, fire and police operations are understaffed or underequipped. His “build it and they will come” light rail development strategy is destined to be a costly joke. His “land use” project is at least a decade from fruition. Neighborhood neglect continues to be characterized by dilapidated, abandoned houses.
Mayor Bing’s fiscal reality is distorted if he believes that asking the two city pension funds to defer $60 million in payments is the preferred way to balance the budget. This merely affirms that metaphorically Detroit is a comatose patient on artificial life support and ought to be taken out of its misery by an emergency financial manager.
Giving the boot to 45 to 50 of his appointees since taking office is not just a serious management deficiency, it denoted instability, which puts a damper on business confidence.
It would be a rare occurrence for the business/corporate community to publicly chastised sitting mayors. Silence prevailed even when the Kilpatrick scandal became too much for business leaders to accept. A few met privately to devise a means by which they would essentially pay Kwame to leave office – for the good of the city.
The corporate/business community no longer seeks my advice. No one whispers in my ear to hold the mayor’s feet to the fire. I’m not trying to drum Mayor Bing out of office. He’s a good guy with an tough job. However, the departure of businesses and employment opportunities shows no sign of abatement under his leadership.
I can only guess why Detroit Renaissance recently changed its name to Business Leaders for Michigan and broadened its focus. Did the organization conclude that “Detroit Renaissance” was no longer apropos, an oxymoron?