Detroit and Off Year Elections

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is a breath of fresh air from Kwame Kilpatrick.  He’s predictably boring.  He doesn’t have the charisma or the oratorical skills of his predecessor, but neither does he seem to have the ethical problems that decimated the Kilpatrick name.  He took office in 2009 when expectations were set so low that it would be nearly impossible to disappoint, a feat, unfortunately, that he’s been able to pull off.

His disappearance during the budget negotiations for the city was pretty lame.  It was arguably the most important moment of his administration, and he basically had to hand the ball over to his deputy mayor, Kirk Lewis.  Today is his first day back in the office since he took leave.  This was far from an instance of leadership carrying the day.  On top of it, this was a situation that Bing knew he had to contend with, and he waited until the last possible moment he could, making the situation much worse.  Speaking with friends in Detroit, it seems like Bing doesn’t enjoy being mayor.  He came from the private sector, where what he said went, which is a huge change from the business of politics.

So what does his future hold for Detroit?  Hard to tell.  As it appears he doesn’t really like being mayor, or his health may not allow it, he  may well not run again in 2013.  Were he not to do so, that would open the door for Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan, a restructuring expert in his own right, to possibly run for mayor.  Duggan recently moved from Livonia to Palmer Woods, and while he initially denied interest in running for mayor, reports indicate that he’s begun discussions with key players in the city as to how he might go about doing just that.

I think Duggan would be a candidate worthy of consideration.  He’s a product of the McNamara machine, but he seems to have emerged from it without the taint of scandal, a notable advantage.  His experience in both the public and private sectors is pretty impressive, and he has the credibility to mount a plausible campaign.  But, this being Detroit, we have to talk about race, because if we don’t, we’re ignoring the elephant in the room.

Duggan wouldn’t be able to run against Bing.  To have a rich white guy who just moved in from the suburbs against a black incumbent is going to ignite racial sensitivities.  Simply put, the optics of the situation are just too inflammatory to the black voter base of Detroit, regardless of merit or potential, to allow Duggan a run at the city’s top office.  However, were Bing to bow out, as he may well, Duggan would have a clear path to what would likely be a successful campaign to become mayor.  So after the general election this year, we’ll have to start paying attention to yet another election.

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