Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr will escort about 40 Wall Street bondholders and creditors on a tour this week through crime-ridden and rundown neighborhoods. His purpose is to draw attention to Detroit’s desperate condition and the need to restructure about $20 billion in debt.
Also this week, the write-in candidacy of former DMC chairman Mike Duggan will swing into high gear as he tries to fire up voters to write his name in a slot on the August primary ballot. Duggan is trying to carve out a path to the November general election ballot after a Court of Appeals ruling kept him off the primary ballot because he filed too early to be eligible under city residency requirements.
Orr and Duggan will have uphill battles.
There is a striking difference, though, in the style of Orr the bankruptcy expert and the substance of Duggan the politician. Orr has carved out a strategic plan that maps the city’s turnaround and calls for a fundamental change in the way the city must approach the future.
So far, Duggan’s plan consists of posturing, criticizing and bemoaning the appointment of the EM. He should join Orr’s tour and get a realistic look at the deep seated problems of the city and tell us why he thinks he as the right stuff to fix what he sees.
Orr’s expedition through the devastation is made necessary by the reluctance of some financial creditors to agree to concessions that might forestall the city completely running out of money and time on the road to bankruptcy. Orr will likely tell creditors that neither a government bailout nor papering over the deficit again (borrowing) will help Detroit arrest the longer term slide that it faces. Restructuring and sacrifices at all levels will be key.
The harsh reality is that Orr’s guests will see Detroit is a long way from recovery. It has a largely poor, uneducated population, with decaying infrastructure, dwindling services and a disappearing tax base.
Thousands of homes are vacated or on the demolition list which spawns neighborhood decline that spreads as the crime and blight of distressed communities cause resident and businesses to flee. Does Mike think these neighborhoods can or should be saved – or continue to be overgrown with weeds? What’s his plan to attract a more genteel class beyond downtown?
In thriving neighborhoods, residents often find work through neighbors, friend and relatives. But in Detroit, role models, job creation and job connection goes lacking. Children grow up with little exposure to steadily employed adults, making it easy for them to see idleness or crime as a way of life. It’s also easy to conclude that the underground economy pays a lot better than the jobs they qualify for.
How would Duggan reverse poor job prospects, the lowered self-image of youth and their feelings of betrayal by the political establishment?
How would he separate them from a destructive pattern of self-limitation so they take that first step up the ladder of opportunity and climb above despair?
Orr seems to understand that the empowerment model must rely on businesses and residents creating investment opportunities and economic enterprise. Does Duggan have an agenda that signals a reawakening of business literacy?
Orr also understands that one of the culprits is a tax policy that kills housing appreciation, limits economic growth and undermines the climate for investing. He has proposed a tax hike. Would Mike cut taxes?
My intent is not to dump on Duggan. The other candidates in the race — Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, former state Rep. Lisa Howze, state Rep. Fred Durhal and former city corporation counsel Krystal Crittendon are also short on specifics.
So Mike, when you join Orr’s eye-opening tour, invite your challengers to also take a trip away from the tired rhetoric. Detroiters need to be motivated to turn an expectant face to the brighter future candidates can articulate and deliver.