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Mike Duggan

Mike Duggan says he is the turnaround candidate in Detroit’s mayoral race. He believes his experience at Wayne County, the SMART bus system and, most recently, the Detroit Medical Center, has prepared him for the challenges of running the city. Throughout the interview, Duggan talked about self-determination and the need for city control of assets and resources. The former Wayne County Prosecutor promises he will be tough on crime and answers questions about race in the campaign and contradictions in his record.

What would the priorities in a Duggan administration?

You have got to start on three fronts. You got to get the violence down. You (must) get the streetlights on. And we need to start to get the abandoned buildings occupied, not just demolished, particularly starting in the stable neighborhoods.

On the crime side, we know what the formula is. We know what worked in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. That is a comprehensive strategy where you bring the U.S. attorney, the ATF, DEA, the prosecutor and the Detroit Police Department together — a single strategy where you go after the gun violence. We were doing that successfully 10 years ago when I was in the prosecutor’s office and Saul Green was in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Benny Napoleon was in the police department. We were all working together.

In my last year (in office) in 2003, we had the fewest murders in this city in 30 years. We haven’t had that kind of comprehensive approach in recent years and we need to get back to it.

On the street lights, we’ve got to put workers out who have accountability relative to repairs. We do need to fix the poles, the wires and the (Public Lighting) Authority is on the way to do that. But for the next five years, as the poles and wires are replaced, we can’t continue to live in the dark. And that means you have to demand accountability from the workers to get the repairs done on a timely basis.

There are a lot of abandoned buildings in stable neighborhoods in this town that if we took them, we could get families to move in and stabilize that neighborhood and not wait three years and knock them down.

If we could get the violence down, get the lights on and get the abandoned buildings occupied, starting with the stable neighborhoods, I believe in two years this city would be dramatically better than it is today.

In reports, you’ve opposed the takeover of Belle Isle. What is your position on the appointment of an emergency financial manager over the City of Detroit?

I have been out strong against an emergency manger. I’ve probably been one of the most vocal opponents for this reason: I don’t disagree with the governor’s analysis that we have a serious financial problem but I don’t believe the emergency manager is the right solution.

To run this city is not just a financial issue. You need somebody to run the bus system, somebody to run the water department, the police department, the ambulance system, the road system, the park system. You need 20 outstanding people to come in here and work together as a team. That’s the way you do a turnaround. I don’t see how an emergency manager, who might be here six or 12 or 18 months, can possibly recruit people to leave their careers to run these departments. And I’m very fearful that the services are going to deteriorate.

But you were appointed by Gov. Snyder to the EAA board — a body that took over Detroit Public Schools. Is there a contradiction?

The EAA, of course, there was no self-determination there either. I would say you’re right. There is some inconsistency. But here’s where I believe it’s different: The EAA is set up as a long-term structure. Dr. Covington and team are there for the long term. They’ve brought in, I think, an excellent team.

I knew, when I signed up for the EAA, it was going to cause me some political damage. When the governor approached me, I said, “I’m running for mayor, to be your appointee would be a really bad thing.” But the 15 schools that we were looking at, the kids in that school, 6 percent of them were at grade level. We’ve got 94 percent of the kids at these schools below grade level, even in third grade, which means their futures are being stolen by the zip codes that they happen to be born into. And when I looked at the plan to extend the school year to 11 months, to have a longer school day where we feed the kids three meals a day at the school, to change from saying to the kid, you graduate at the end of the year, to we’re going to have skill certification every week that you progress as the school year goes on, I believe in the vision of what we’re trying to do there.

Since 1999, the state has been in control of the schools, test scores have fallen, we’ve gone from a surplus to a deficit.

I agree with all that. I think that the takeover of the Detroit Public Schools has been a bad thing. I don’t see how anybody can objectively point to either the first takeover or the second takeover and say the schools got better. The second takeover in particular. I couldn’t believe the way the media in this town treated Robert Bobb. He came in and announced he was solving problems. There was no evidence he was getting the deficit under control. He came in and announced he had $150 million deficit, he got a whole range of media accolades and, when the year ends, the deficit was at $300 million. And we’ve lost 25 percent of the students in the Detroit Public Schools since Robert Bobb came in as the manager. I think the DPS emergency manager is an example of how it hasn’t worked. I think Roy Roberts has done a good job of keeping it from getting worse. But the short-term emergency manager process is failing.

Many Detroiters believe you had a role in dismantling two Black-controlled institutions:

Detroit Public Schools (under first state takeover and DMC). How do you respond to that?

DMC has always been privately owned. The last public hospital, Mayor Young gave up, is Detroit Receiving in the 1980s. There wasn’t a question whether it was privately owned.

DMC was a private non-profit institution, just like St. John’s, Henry Ford, Beaumont and the like. There may have been a perception it was different. But we were a private non-profit. What we did was go from a private non-profit to a private for-profit. That was the change that we made. The question is does a non-profit serve this city well? I would argue I don’t know how anybody can claim a non-profit served this city well. Non-profit Trinity system closed Samaritan Hospital, closed Mt. Caramel. The non-profit systems across this city closed hospitals, at least 15 of them, in the last 20 years.

When you took over control of the DPS bond-issue spending, you eliminated citizen participation.

I did not have control over the $2 billion bond issue. I came in for a six-month period in one summer to do the summer school repairs. I never took over the global bond issue. I had nothing to do with the global bond issue. I did the emergency summer repair program. And we spent $80 million in the three or four months in the summer of 1999. Work that was done, more than 40 percent, by African American and Detroit-based contractors. We got the windows fixed, the broken bathrooms fixed, the leaking roofs fixed and I left. I had nothing to do with the broader bond issue. I had nothing to do with any committee. I came in at the start of the summer. I fixed the schools, with a great team, and I left at the end of the summer. And that was my involvement. I wouldn’t say we were perfect but I know I did a lot of good.

Would you bring what’s been privatized back into the city?

Certainly. The Institute of Population Health (IPH), I think was a terrible mistake to take on the outside. I met last week with heads of most of the major substance abuse agencies in this city and they all tell me the same thing: that when the money stopped getting routed to the health department and started going directly to IPH, that they have tripled the amount of administrative costs, which is causing wait lists among the substance abuse population, causing empty beds in these treatment facilities. And certainly these people, who I believe feel that this privatization has actually taken money away from the people who need the service, and moved it to a board that’s not accountable. I have been against every one of these authorities as they’ve popped up. I think they are dispersing the control that the next mayor needs to turn this city around. They’re talking about fire authorities and police authorities; I’m against every one of these. I believe in strong central control and a city administration with a mayor accountable to the people and overseen by the city council.

Would you reverse the Lighting Authority?

The Lighting Authority is an act of the state legislature. I was against it when they did it. The Lighting Authority isn’t the worst of all of them though, because it’s essentially a means to borrow money. The city couldn’t borrow the money for the wires and the poles because of its bond situation. So, the Lighting Authority gave them a means to borrow the money. That one probably ought to stay in place but we should have city workers working for the Authority. And the city workers need to be the ones responsible for the repairs.

The water department?

I am not in favor of privatizing the water department. I think we need to significantly restructure the classifications at the water department.  I think it’s inefficiently structured. I think the fact that it has been overseen by a federal judge for 30 years has been very damaging in the ability to get that water department to run well. One of my goals will be to dissolve the federal receivership at the earliest possible date and return the water department directly to the City of Detroit.

When you were at DMC, the nurses accused you of union busting. What does this promise for unionized city workers?

The person who introduced me, at my event, was the president of the DMC union for nine years. None of the existing DMC unions are complaining about me, nor were the prosecutors’ unions, nor were the Wayne County unions or the SMART bus unions. The nurses’ issue was completely different. They were attempting to organize. The nurses have not been successful in organizing. There is not a hospital within 25 miles of where we’re sitting that has a nurses union. The right to unionize or not unionize is a decision of employees. It doesn’t belong to management and it doesn’t belong to unions. The nurses at DMC chose not to unionize. They can blame me for that if they want but the nurses at Henry Ford, Beaumont, Oakwood, St. John’s, St. Joe’s have also all chosen not to unionize.

All the years you worked in Detroit, why didn’t you live in the city?

You make different personal life choices. When my wife and I first got married, we were in Livonia. The kids were in the schools, they were in the local soccer leagues and tied in with their friends. When my youngest son left for college, we were free to live wherever we want and we picked that point in our life to make our decision.

When you were prosecutor, there was a practice of confiscation of vehicles. The money you collected went into a pool used to give your prosecutors bonuses. Would you call this good governance?

I probably would have structured the bonus a different way. The underlining program was a good program. We’ve got too many places in this city where kids are getting off the school bus and seeing hookers operating in their neighborhoods. We made a major dent in that with the sting operations in partnership with the Detroit Police and the Sheriff’s Office where we were seizing the cars of Johns — 90 percent of them came from the suburbs — in order to get them to stop strolling the streets of Detroit so the hookers wouldn’t be standing on the corners. So, I was a complete, strong advocate for what we were doing. But I would agree with you that the decision to use the success of that for the bonuses that year was not my best judgment.

You insist this campaign is not about race. How then do you then represent a city as mayor where the majority of people have been subjected — because of race — to racial profiling by police, heavy-handed prosecution from the prosecutors’ office and unjust economic system?

All I can do is be who I am and argue for what I’ve argued for. In my life, I think I’ve worked to make this city better in a lot of ways. Whether it was trying to make it safer, when I was prosecutor, or trying to make it safe from a standpoint of preserving our safety-net hospital system. And everybody is going to have to make their own judgment as to whether the quality of life in the city would be better if I’m the mayor or it wouldn’t. And I don’t tell anybody what criteria to use. All I can do is say, here’s where I see the city. I think that we’re half a step from bankruptcy and I think we need a turnaround mayor and I think if you look at the people running, if you can find anybody else who’s ever turned around anything financially, they ought to be supported. But the big part of why I got in it is, I don’t see anybody else that’s turned around anything financially and so I’m offering myself as a candidate. People will choose to think that I’m the right choice or not and I’m going to just leave it to the voters.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon had admitted the state owed the city $800 million. What would you do to capture these funds?

The figure that I am familiar with is the revenue sharing protection that Gov. Engler gave at the time the state lowered the income tax. I am very much a realist; I face reality as it is. When the governor said, “We want to lower the income tax,” Dennis Archer said, “We can’t afford to have you both lower the income tax and have revenue sharing be cut.” John Engler, in a very public way, promised to hold harmless on the revenue sharing. We made a mistake not getting it into the law. And so, we all know what happened. The budget got tight two years later, Engler reneged on the deal, subsequent administrations have continued to renege on the deal. There is no doubt there is a moral obligation on the part of the State of Michigan for several hundred million dollars. But one legislature under the Michigan Constitution can’t bind a future legislature. The fact that we did not get that hold harmless in the legislation means that we can sue but I don’t believe we would win that case. So, I don’t believe a successful strategy is going to be to sue for the money. I think the right strategy is to say, “Look you have a moral obligation to pay this to us,” and come up with some means of developing revenue that we can take to the legislature and sell.

What about the millions owed by the corporate community? What would you do to go after that?

We need to collect it. You look at this Detroit News story. We’re not collecting taxes from anybody. But it certainly needs to be enforced against the corporate community. And we need to get a fair property tax system in this state and in the city in particular. I don’t have any confidence in the caliber of the assessments. There’s an unfair patchwork system that has to be restructured.

Would you be willing to show your last three years’ tax returns?

I haven’t really thought about that.

You’ve compared your campaign to that of President Barack Obama, do you understand how that’s offensive to Black people — when you understand the historical context?

People will be offended or not offended by what they want. Although I’ve been in 75 homes and I’ve talked about this, I didn’t compare my campaign to him. When I’ve been asked the question, “How will I deal in campaigning in a predominately African American community as a caucasian and what will I do when I have people who raise issues that are race-based?” What I’ve said to people is, “I watched the way President Obama campaigned in Iowa when issues were raised on him and the gracious way he handled them and that goal is to use him as my role model and handle it just as graciously myself.” If people choose to be offended by that, they can. But I got to tell you, in the 75 living rooms and basements I’ve been in, nobody has reacted with any disapproval to that statement. But I think there may be some people out there who’ve got reason to store feelings against me, maybe twisting what I said. But I haven’t found anybody who was actually offended when they’ve actually listened to me talk about it.

I was a huge Barack Obama supporter from March 2007. I saw from the beginning the potential and it’s enormous. I’m not claiming to be anything historic. I’m just claiming to be a guy who knows how to turn things around who is running for office. That’s all I’m claiming to be.


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