Amid a Turbulent Economy, a Mayoral Race Brews in Detroit

Several candidates have emerged in a contest to succeed Mayor Dave Bing, who is not disclosing whether he will run for reelection.

Posted: 02/07/2013 01:04 PM EST

Reporting from Detroit — As Detroit grapples with a host of economic challenges, the city is gearing up for a widely anticipated contest over who will lead this city in the upcoming four years.

For now, there are a host of questions swirling around Detroit’s political landscape. Will the city’s incumbent mayor run for reelection? How crowded will the field be? Will Detroit, the nation’s largest majority-Black city, elect its first white mayor since the 1970s?

The overarching question here is whether the incumbent mayor, Dave Bing, will seek another four-year-term. Bing, a former Detroit Pistons guard who later owned a steel processing company, has said little to nothing about his political plans.

He was elected in May 2009 to fill out the remainder of the term of Kwame Kilpatrick, who resigned in 2008 over the fallout from a text-message scandal. Kilpatrick is now on trial for federal charges on more than 30 counts that include racketeering, bribery and fraud during his time in public office. Bing was reelected to a full term in November 2009.

“I don’t worry about political plans,” Bing said, in an interview with BET.com. “All of my focus, since I’ve been in office, is not to worry about getting reelected. I came in here to help fix a problem. That’s what I’m doing.”

Bing’s reluctance to disclose his plans may be linked to the harsh criticism he has received by fellow politicians and community activists of his handling of the city’s financial crisis. In fact, a recent poll by the Mellman Group found that Bing was viewed favorably by 7 percent of the respondents.

Not surprisingly, that has stimulated a lively campaign scenario with two Detroit figures rising to the position of major contenders in the nonpartisan primary in August. One is Benny Napoleon, a former Detroit chief of police who is now the sheriff of Wayne County. The other is Mike Duggan, a former prosecutor who served as the deputy Wayne County executive. Most recently, he served as president and chief executive of the Detroit Medical Center.

Duggan’s candidacy has intensified interest in the mayoral race among residents of Detroit, a city in which African-Americans account for 83 percent of the population. If elected, Duggan would be the first white mayor of Detroit since Roman Gribbs left office in 1974.

In presenting himself to voters, Duggan casts himself as a leader whose executive experience would enable him to turn the city around. He says he offers Detroit experienced leadership that it sorely needs in tackling the economic challenges.

On the other hand, Napoleon presents himself as a home-grown Detroiter who has become an authority on the city and how to fix its problems, particularly in fighting crime.

“I believe that the most significant issue confronting this community is the unacceptable rate of violent crime that exists,” Napoleon said in an interview with BET.com. “Detroit cannot be the poster child for violent crime in America year after year.”

He criticizes Duggan for having moved into the city from an adjacent suburban community. But Duggan dismisses any such critiques, saying he wants to lead Detroiters in solving the city’s problems without the intervention of the state, which is now considering appointing an emergency manager to oversee Detroit’s finances.

“I want to return Detroit to a condition of self-determination, where Detroit is run by people elected by Detroiters,” Duggan said. “Over the years we’ve seen the control slip away.”

Two state representatives, Lisa Howze and Fred Durhal, have formally announced their candidacies as has former Detroit city attorney Krystal Crittendon.

Howze, who is also a certified public accountant, is planning to be the first candidate to campaign on television. She purchased a 30-second campaign commercial that ran locally during the Super Bowl.

Nonetheless, the race is widely seen as being a contest between Duggan and Napoleon. The Mellman poll indicated that 56 percent of respondents had a favorable impression of Duggan, and 14 percent were unfavorable toward him. In that poll, Napoleon was viewed favorably by 65 percent, with 19 percent viewing him unfavorably.

Watching all of this with very little to say on the matter is Bing. “I’ve got 11 months left in this term,” the mayor said. “I’m not worried about whether I get reelected again. My goal right now is to fix as much as I can and the pieces will fall into place.”

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(Photos: Jonathan Hicks/BET)

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