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Mayoral race heats up

Benny Napolean

Napoleon has early lead

By Marcus Wright
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — While most Detroiters have not cast a ballot for the next president of the United States yet, another race is gaining momentum — the Detroit mayor’s race. Early polling has fueled headlines, speculation and supporters for a 2013 showdown. Big city politics is fundamental to the region and 2013 will not be an exception.

Early polls indicate Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon would be a strong contender in Detroit’s next mayoral race. A recent poll, conducted by the Detroit News, put Napoleon in first place. Of the 800 people polled, with no campaigning, 21.6 percent said they favored the sheriff for mayor of the city of Detroit.

Sheriff Napoleon indicated to the Michigan Citizen he is seriously considering the run.

“Everywhere I go, small business owners, clergy, residents of the city of Detroit ask, ‘Am I going to run for mayor?’ It’s becoming more frequent,” said Napoleon.

The lifelong Detroiter says he’s encouraged by the requests.

“I’m an elected official, a public servant and if the people are asking me to serve then I have to give it serious thought,” he said.

“I’m a Detroiter, through and through. I feel the pain and I have the expertise to alleviate the pain. Not only do I feel the pain but I have love for this city. To see it go from 2 million to 700,000? I drive down the street where my mother lives and I see the house that was the most beautiful house on the street when I was growing up. Now it is abandoned. I almost cried. Becoming mayor of Detroit is no stepping stone for me,” he said of the city’s current state of high crime and financial distress.

Crime, Napoleon says, is the most pressing issue in Detroit.

“The city will not get better and will not thrive until we stop the crime. There is no one better equipped to do that than I am,” he added. “This is my Detroit and I don’t buy into the idea that it’s irreparable. But I do know only Detroiters can fix Detroit like Detroiters want it fixed. The ‘get things done man’ is not going to get things done the way we want them done.”

State Rep. Lisa Howze, who announced her candidacy for mayor last spring, placed fifth in the poll, only four points below Mayor Dave Bing, who was favored by 9.6 percent of the respondents.

City Council President Charles Pugh came in secondplace, with support from 17.6 percent of the respondents, followed by DMC CEO Mike Duggan with 13.4 percent.

Of the names polled, besides Howze’s formal announcement, Duggan is the first to announce the formation of an exploratory committee. Duggan recently moved from Livonia to Detroit for the possible run. The committee, according to a Duggan press statement, is the final step in determining whether to make a commitment and formally launch a campaign for mayor.

“He says the exploratory campaign is not official. He’s happy with his placing in the poll,” said Minister Malik Shabazz, speaking on behalf of Duggan. “It shows it’s going to be a hard fought race.”

According to Shabazz, a Duggan supporter, the DMC chief says he’s exactly where he wants to be at this time.

Many Detroiters are troubled by Duggan’s record. The business mogul has been charged with undermining Black institutions and political power in Detroit, as well as unionizing efforts, as head of the DMC.

As deputy CEO of Detroit Public Schools in early 2000, Duggan set up a committee of contractors to oversee the spending of more than a billion dollars in bond money, raised by Detroit taxpayers, to make capital improvements to schools. That committee replaced a community-based council that gave consideration to Black and Detroit-based contractors.

The Michigan Citizen ran stories during that period about the misspending and double billing by Duggan’s suburban contractors, who went on to host fundraisers for his political race as Wayne County prosecutor.

He refused, through Shabazz, to interview with the Michigan Citizen at this time.

Rep. Howze says she believes the poll accurately reflects the thinking of Detroit citizens. She indicated she is grateful the poll was done early. “I have the opportunity to gain support,” she told the Michigan Citizen. “I’m sure I will, as I keep presenting my vision to the people.”

Howze, a CPA, said a poll can be constructed to validate a proposition; phrasing and how a question is constructed is important.

“We don’t know who was asked what in this poll,” she said. “I’m informed some of the respondents were not registered voters.”

Rev. David Bullock, president of the Highland Park Branch of the NAACP and Detroit Rainbow PUSH and pastor of Greater St. Matthew Baptist, says we have to be careful to use polls commissioned by entities pushing candidates. Bullock referred to the pictures of Duggan and early press.

“We’re talking about numbers and numbers can be manipulated,” Rev. Bullock said. “A poll was done by a newspaper, which indicated those people left in Detroit would leave if they could. The next day the same newspaper published figures which stated people were not satisfied with Detroit’s leadership.”

Rev. Bullock did, however, say he believes Bing’s low poll numbers are not a surprise. The results are in-line with his belief that the mayor is out of touch. “(Bing) is unable to connect with the people, with the citizens. In his effort to turn the city around, the citizens feel left out, disrespected and demoralized,” he said. “They lash out. What we’ve seen at Council meetings is a reflection of their anger.”

Bing’s Press Secretary Anthony Neely responded by e-mail. “As a rule, we don’t comment on polls and I can tell you Mayor Bing is focused on his restructuring initiatives for rebuilding the city, not next year’s election.”

According to Rev. Bullock, Detroit has not been turned around under Mayor Bing’s leadership. He said, instead, the power of the mayor’s office has been limited, the transportation system mismanaged, plus Detroiters have undergone two police chief scandals and drastic pay cuts for all city workers.

An effort to recall Mayor Bing has begun. Petition language mirrors many of Bullock’s grievances.

Albert Garrett, president of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents city workers, said the mayor of Detroit must be a Detroiter first. Garrett also said the person must establish a relationship with the community and be familiar with the problems facing the city. He also said a mayor should be capable of choosing a staff with the ability to use the resources we have to enhance the city. Garrett also said the next administration must “spur the economy … take Detroit dollars and leverage them.”

Rev. Bullock agrees.

“(The) mayor has to be mayor to all the people, all of Detroit. Not just Midtown and Downtown,” Rev. Bullock said. “A mayor needs to be connected to the poor as well as rich, citizens, as well as corporations. Detroit needs a mayor who puts the people before the bottom line.”

“(Detroit’s) mayor has to be open to everyone in the community, not just those in his administration,” says Garrett. “The mayor has to find out why our young people move to the suburbs and pay $1,000 a month rent when they can buy a house in Detroit for $35,000. No one person has the complete vision but the solution does lie within the affected community.”

Thirty-five percent of voters, however, are undecided.

Council President Pugh did not respond to several attempts to reach him for comment.

Contact Marcus Wright at marcuswright@michigancitizen.com

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