Primary Day in Detroit: A Crowded, Unpredictable Event

With 14 candidates on the ballot and another eight registered as write-in contenders, the troubled Motor City is facing an unusual political landscape.

Posted: 08/05/2013 12:59 PM EDT

Against the backdrop of the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, Detroit is now preparing for a primary for mayor Tuesday that is as crowded as it is rollicking and unpredictable.

Voters have a selection of 14 candidates on the ballot, with another eight who have registered as write-in contenders to succeed incumbent Mayor Dave Bing, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek a second term as Detroit’s mayor.

The two candidates who are widely seen as being the best positioned are Benny Napoleon, the Wayne County sheriff, and Mike Duggan, the former chief executive of the Detroit Medical Center. Both have done well in polls among voters.

Candidates who are recognized as being strong, but second-tier contenders are a number of current or former office holders who are familiar with segments of Detroit’s 700,000 residents. Those include Krystal Crittendon, a former Detroit corporation counsel; Lisa Howze, a former state representative; and two Michigan state representatives: Fred Durhal Jr. and John Olumba.

As the city’s elections officials prepare for Tuesday’s primary, it is generally expected that the turnout will be low, perhaps lower than the 20 percent who went to the polls four years ago.

Part of the apathy, many Detroiters say, is the fact that the ultimate winner will have far less power to make fiscal changes than Bing did when he came to office in 2009. Since March, the city has been operating with an emergency financial manager appointed by Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder. That manager, Kevyn Orr, has nearly unlimited power to shape Detroit’s finances, including the high-profile and controversial decision to file for bankruptcy.

In fact, the appointment of Orr has been a central theme of the mayoral race, with many candidates charging that Orr’s presence is everything from unnecessary to undemocratic.

While Napoleon and Duggan have received the lion’s share of the media attention in the race, it is Duggan who has had the more challenging political pathway. His quest to become the first white mayor in decades of this overwhelmingly African-American city has been frustrated by Duggan being kicked off the ballot for a residency issue. (He was found to have moved within the city limits a month too late.)

Duggan then launched a write-in campaign, a painstaking undertaking. That effort, too, was rocked by the candidate filing just last Thursday of a 31-year-old barber with no political experience named Mike Dugeon, who registered as a write-in candidate.

The two men pronounce their names the same, and Duggan has charged that the candidacy was orchestrated by his political opponents. Nonetheless, he has campaigned vigorously, imploring voters to remember him has the candidate who spells his name with two Gs.

Meanwhile, Mike Dugeon has said little to nothing about his political views nor what prompted him to join the race five days before primary days. So far he is best known for a Facebook page where he laments women not taking his calls unless he provides them alcoholic beverages and marijuana.

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(Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

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