The Detroit Regional Chamber’s political action committee has endorsed write-in Detroit mayoral candidate Mike Duggan. Organized labor has cast its lot with Benny Napoleon.

This maneuvering is part of the political power game playing out in grand fashion in the primary sweepstakes. The vote could come down to who best represents the public good versus the special interests.

“The Chamber and the Detroit business community know and respect Mike Duggan,” Chamber President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah said in a statement. “Mike is a recent former Chamber Board member and we know and applaud his work to turn around the Detroit Medical Center and his strong record of public service as Wayne County prosecutor.”

In May, the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO – a labor conglomeration – gave frontrunner Napoleon the nod. “As sheriff, Benny Napoleon has stood with working people time and time again,” Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Chris Michalakis said. “Our city has tremendous challenges ahead, and it is critical that we face them with a leader who respects the collective bargaining process and will fight for working families.”

It’s not known what, if any, tradeoffs Benny had to make to get what some consider prized endorsements that include the Amalgamated Transit Union, United Food and Commercial Workers and Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights. However, there’s evidence that few candidates elected under the union banner have been willing to take positions deemed harmful to labor organizations.    

In fact, elected leaders beholden to labor have a history of turning a blind eye to what constitutes good public policy. When employee issues conflict with a city’s fiscal or operating objectives, officeholders that rely on direct or indirect contributions from labor groups tend to give inordinate weight to their wishes.

To win labor support, past Detroit mayors have pledged, among other things, never to privatize city services. The consequences of what might be called a “deal with the devil” are apparent; essential services are in shambles, parks and recreational facilities are devastated. While efficiency suffered without accountability measures, costs shot up beyond the city’s ability to pay.

There’s also the argument that the government the unions backed, bought and paid for in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, took an even greater toll – it hindered investment, development and growth. Today, Detroit has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

Labor is still capable of being the funding engine for the candidate of their choice by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign that come with hundreds of volunteers, organizers, foot soldiers and get-out-the vote phone banks.

This well-oiled political machine is known to attack what it views as pro-business, anti-worker policies. Officeholders, for example, who support contracting-out of government services that would affect union jobs, are likely to attract formidable union adversaries. Those who oppose labor-backed initiatives as “prevailing wage, “living wage” or “minimum wage” hikes – generally seen as job killers by business –find themselves in labor’s crosshairs.

The business community has complained – mostly privately –that the embrace of labor by former mayors is contrary to good government. By and large, the chamber has silently sulked on the sidelines bemoaning being victimized by political neglect.

images-1Today, the group obviously believes Duggan, with a strong business background, best identifies with their idea of how to create an inviting environment for new businesses and their employees; changing the tax structure to stop business erosion and the hemorrhaging of the tax base. Does Duggan also agree with the premise that successful cities require cooperation between political leaders and the corporations that bring capital investment? Does Napoleon?

These conflicting paths to the future will present tough choices for Detroiters. Will the city be operated under a blueprint for opportunity in a free market environment? Or will the next mayor allow the city to function under the more parochial, narrow dictates from labor?

Let the debate begin.

 

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