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Five things Detroit’s new mayor must do to restore confidence

D. Alexander Bullock

D. Alexander Bullock

By David Alexander Bullock

For the past few months, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has run the city of Detroit and Mayor Dave Bing has been  nothing more than a figurehead; and yet, a new mayor was elected on Nov. 5.

Amid a low voter turnout of around 20 percent, the election of Mike Duggan  as Detroit’s new mayor was historic and significant. It was historic because he will be the first white mayor of Detroit in 40 years. It was significant because the former DMC CEO ran on a platform of financial stability and austerity rather than safety and an end to violence in local communities.

Some say this win was a win for the mainstream media. They argue the endless stream of stories branding Black leadership and former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration as the cause for the financial meltdown in Detroit promoted the idea that change in Detroit means a white mayor.

Interestingly, while race and the political fall-out of Kilpatrick did loom large in the outcome of this election, Sheriff Benny Napoleon’s record as a lawman didn’t seem to capture the imagination of voters who live in an unsafe city and are underserved by the police department.  Figurehead or not, in an era of government that favors financial stability and austerity over prosperity, it seems Detroiters have elected a mayor who will prioritize a balanced budget — whether he can stop random bullets is another question.

Crime and safety remain key issues in the city of Detroit. With diminished financial resources, limited police patrolling and a chief who is not a certified police officer, it is unclear whether balancing the budget of the city of Detroit will make citizens safer. Unchecked violence erupts in Detroit all the time. On Sept. 21, police discovered Jamar Clay dead on Chapel Street near Vassar in Detroit. The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s autopsy revealed he died of injuries suffered after being struck by a vehicle. There have been no leads or serious investigation into his murder.

The week before Mike Duggan was elected mayor there were two random acts of violence. On Oct. 28, 35-year-old David Cobbs was shot five times and killed. Tiane Brown, a third-year law student at Wayne State University’s Law School, was last seen Oct. 28 at 8:15 p.m. on the Midtown campus. Her body was discovered two days later in her burgundy Chevy Trailblazer SUV, which had a personalized license plate spelling out “TIANE.”

The rhetoric of “turnaround” may have gotten Mike Duggan elected, but there is a difference between running for mayor and being mayor. In order to transform the city of Detroit he will need to do five key things:

– Be the mayor:

Mike Duggan was not elected to be a figurehead. Out-going Mayor Dave Bing pledged to work with Gov. Rick Snyder and EM Orr. Instead, the two have consistently gone around the mayor and not included him in the appointment of department heads, expenditures and the overall direction and operation of city government. Mike Duggan has made the same pledge. He will work with the emergency manager. Since Kevyn Orr runs the city of Detroit, what will the mayor do? Will Mike Duggan even be the mayor really or just another person reporting to Kevyn Orr (and Gov. Snyder)? He must challenge this trend and fight to actually run the city.

– Restore faith in the police department’s ability to secure neighborhoods, investigate and solve crimes in Detroit:

In spite of the new chief of police, who reports to the emergency manager, Detroit has a crime and safety crisis. People are afraid to get gas and shop in this city. Mr. Duggan must take control of the police department, find dollars for more officers, develop an effective deployment plan and figure out how to restore faith in the Detroit Police Department. He should start by making the new chief of police become a certified police officer in the city of Detroit. He must then deal with the number of unsolved murders happening in the city of Detroit. Detroit is trending toward becoming the new wild, wild West; Mr. Duggan must stop this trend.

– Make sure the needed legal expenses authorized by EM Orr are not reducing the needed dollars for citywide services like police, fire and lighting:

Detroiter’s are paying lawyers $1,000 an hour. There is a $62 million price tag for consultants; however, they don’t make the city safer or increase the delivery of city services. There is no check on how Kevyn Orr spends taxpayer dollars. Mr. Duggan must bring accountability to the city government even if that means holding his boss Kevyn Orr accountable.

– Stop RoboCop from becoming a reality in Detroit:

35 percent of Detroiter’s receive some type of public assistance and live at or near poverty. There is massive unemployment and underemployment in the city. The new Detroit of Midtown and downtown is flourishing, while the old Detroit — the rest of the city, is decaying. Mr. Duggan must develop and execute a plan for the employment of Detroiters and revenue generation within the city of Detroit.

– Challenge the standard Republican ideology about the role of government:

While the race for mayor is a non-partisan race. It is clear cutting social programs and ignoring poverty has been the approach of Gov. Snyder and EM Orr. Mr. Duggan will have to challenge this approach and make ending poverty in Detroit a major priority of his administration. He will have to challenge the prevailing ideology of his associates and dare to use government to champion a zero-tolerance for poverty agenda in Detroit.

D. Alexander Bullock is pastor of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church and the founder and national spokesperson for the Change Agent Consortium (

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