Can Detroit's New Mayor Mike Duggan Save the Bankrupt City from Further Destruction?

In downtown Detroit, the neo-gothic Cadillac Tower stretches 40 stories into the sky--impressively tall today, even more so in 1927, the year it was built. Back then, it was called Barlum Tower after the twice-elected Democratic mayor who helped to erect it. At the time, only Chicago and New York had skyscrapers so high. And so, for the emerging Motor City, the building was an imposing monument to grand aspirations, a statement rendered in towering terracotta, brick and stone.
Today, Cadillac Tower is partially occupied by a handful of law offices, a sandwich shop and a few city departments. On the half-empty 28th floor, a glossy blue sign is pasted outside the door of a nondescript suite. "Transition Detroit," it reads. Inside, Mike Duggan, the 55-year-old former hospital executive who will become the bankrupt city's next mayor on Jan. 1, is planning what he hopes will become the most transformative administration in the city's 300-year history. "We have the means to lay the foundation to build a brand-new city," says Lisa Howze, who ran against Duggan in the Democratic primary and now co-chairs his transition team.

There's no question that Duggan marks a sharp change in direction for the beleaguered city of 700,000. The first white mayor elected in Detroit in more than four decades, he takes charge of a city still unhappily shaped by the white flight of the 1960s and notorious as one of the most segregated in the country. How polarized is it? No big city in America has a higher percentage of African Americans (84 percent). Next door, the city of Livonia happens to be the whitest in the nation (97 percent). Duggan was born in Detroit, but he lived in Livonia for years before returning to the Motor City to run for mayor.

These racial facts never became the big issue they might have in the campaign that brought him to the mayor's office; instead, they were largely overtaken by bureaucratic dramatics. Duggan, a one-time prosecutor and deputy county executive, was kicked off the nonpartisan primary ballot because of a residency technicality. (Eager to launch his campaign, he had filed his papers six weeks ahead of the deadline--and two weeks shy of having lived within the city limits for a year.) So Duggan, a first-time mayoral candidate, was forced to mount a tenacious write-in campaign in hopes of being one of the top two vote-getters in the nonpartisan August primary, who would then make it onto the November ballot.

This task was made more difficult by the suspicious and late entrance into the race of another write-in candidate--one Mike Dugeon, a 30-year-old barber who had never voted before. Duggan won the primary with 46 percent of the vote and a pitch to invest in the future of every neighborhood; not just in its more thriving parts of downtown, but also the somewhat patchy residential neighborhoods in the city's corners. Duggan then bested Benny Napoleon, a popular county sheriff, in the November election, garnering 55 percent of the votes, despite some racially coded rhetoric from his opponent implying Duggan was not a real Detroiter. As Napoleon provocatively put it in the final debate, "I was protecting the weak, while Mike was sleeping in Livonia."

Speaking to his supporters on Election Night, Duggan seemed positively thrilled to have earned himself the hardest job in American politics. But things were about to get tougher: In early December, a federal district court judge certified the city as eligible for Chapter 9 bankruptcy on its $18.5 billion debt, green-lighting the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history and beginning a process that, in the charitable words of Judge Steven Rhodes, might create "an opportunity for a fresh start." Left now to be sorted out are the painful cuts to retirement benefits for city employees and the monumental losses that will be shouldered by the city's bond holders. The scope of what Detroit faces is difficult to fathom: The city has 20 square miles of vacant land, 72 Superfund sites and only 27 jobs for every 100 residents.

Source: Politico | ANNA CLARK
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