Expect the quadrennial process of selecting an occupant for the Detroit’s most exalted office to be livelier next year than in the recent past.
An expanding field of contenders can only enhance the mayoral sweepstakes. Most importantly, it offers an opportunity for a fresh airing on what direction Detroit ought to be going — and what kind of leader is best capable of policy decisions that transform failure into prosperity.
DMC Chief Executive Officer Mike Duggan didn’t exactly shakeup the political landscape by adding his name to what is expected to be a growing list of potential candidates trying to replace Mayor Dave Bing. Duggan’s political foreplay had been going on for several months. It was expected. He did, however, add another wrinkle with the prospect of the first white mayor since 1973.
Broad speculation surrounds other possible hopefuls, including Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, State Representatives Lisa Howze and Fred Durhal. Businessman Tom Barrow, a perennial unsuccessful candidate also appears to be contemplating throwing his hat into the ring — again.
The compilation of this short list of potential contenders suggests that the once rising star of the mayor is in free fall. Mayor Bing was elected to keep Detroit from committing suicide. But under his stewardship fiscal and economic self-destruction appears all but inevitable.
Over the last three-plus years, Bing has managed to alienate almost every segment of his constituent base. The optimism and high expectations of residents, so much in evidence during the early stages of his term, has faded. City services remain inefficient, departments customer-unfriendly. Social and cultural upheavals, crime and population flight show no signs of abating. His questionable judgment on financial issues has brought into question the absence of bold decision-making.
Fiscal stress and a huge budget deficit challenged him to cut waste and operate more efficiently. His alternatives came down to peeling back onerous and uncompromising labor contracts, lay off workers, sell off city assets or put city services out for bid. Some options he didn’t try, perhaps conceding that outsourcing wouldn’t go over very well in a city where yielding to labor demands is a way of life.
As the mayor and City Council grew increasingly dependent on unions for votes, unions became overly dependent on government for jobs. This perverse marriage caused government to be separated from focusing on one of its most urgent needs: creating a supportive environment for jobs and growth in the business sector.
With little enterprise, high unemployment and sickly tax base Detroit has been out of contention as a center of retail, manufacturing and prosperity.
It’s not too early for Detroiters to begin thinking about whether a spirit of political adventurism is needed to exploit other possibilities and opportunities. Hopefully, a new mayor will understand that because the economics of the city have changed, so too must the role of government and its relationship with its workers. Labor unions can’t be sacrosanct as streets go unrepaired, bus riders bemoan poor services and late schedules, discarded tires pile up in scores of unattended, debris-strewn vacant lots and telephone complaints from residents go unanswered.
The next mayor won’t have the luxury to shun bold initiatives. Voters too may be asked to boldly look beyond the color of a candidate’s skin and decide whether Duggan has leadership qualities that equal his ambition to be mayor. They must legitimately and earnestly ask whether his talents, not fatal as a county administrator, prosecutor or company turnaround agent, would spell disaster for the mayoralty.
George Bernard Shaw once defined democracy as the only form of government in which the people get exactly what they deserve. I also believe real people power comes from building a broader base and putting together a solid game plan to solve problems. If both idioms are true, there will be no one to blame if voters fail to put in the game the best player available.