Detroit Could Make History by Electing First White Mayor in 40 Years

Mike Duggan, the former head of the Detroit Medical Center, is leading in the polls over Benny Napoleon, the Wayne County sheriff.

Posted: 11/04/2013 12:58 PM EST

John Henry Davis said that he had long ago made a firm decision about who he would support in Tuesday’s mayoral race in Detroit.

“I feel strongly about Mike Duggan because he has a record of fixing things,” said Davis, who is retired after years for working in an administrative capacity for a labor union in Detroit.

“Mike Duggan has a record of fixing things that are broken,” Davis said, in an interview with BET.com. “And Detroit has been broken for some years now. We need to go with what will work best for this city.”

Davis is apparently not alone in his political preference, if recent opinion polls serve as any forecast. They show Duggan, a former prosecutor and former chief executive of the Detroit Medical Center, leading Benny Napoleon, the Wayne County sheriff.

If Duggan indeed prevails in Tuesday’s election, it would also be historic. He would become the first white mayor of Detroit in 40 years, when Coleman Young was elected to become the city’s first Black mayor in 1973. It would be a notable result in Detroit, a city that is nearly 85 percent African-American.

While Duggan is ahead in polls, Napoleon has significant support from labor unions and ministers in Detroit. But Duggan’s political strength is formidable, which was illustrated by his coming in first place in the September primary – as a write-in candidate.

With Detroit now immersed in bankruptcy proceedings, saddled with $18 billion in debt and overseen by an emergency financial manager, many residents insist that their city simply must turn to a new leadership model. After the years of Kwame Kilpatrick, who was recently sentenced for 28 years in prison for corruption, and the administration of Mayor Dave Bing, a period in which the city saw an appointed manager effectively run the city, many say it’s time for a dramatic change.

But, if interviews with Duggan supporters serve as any example, race has little or nothing to do with the backing Duggan has enjoyed from voters.

“The main thing is that he has a background that has made him best positioned to make the changes that need to be made,” said Russell Baker, a lawyer and real estate consultant who lives in Detroit, speaking with BET.com.

In fact, Baker echoed the sentiments of many Duggan supporters who portray Napoleon as a career politician who is less likely to make dramatic changes.

“To me, Napoleon represents the system as it has been,” Baker said. “He’s a politician. And that means he will have political obligations if he’s mayor. It would be part of the same old thing we’ve seen before: A mayor comes in and nothing new comes with him.”

Napoleon supporters, on the other hand, say that the Wayne County sheriff is a lifelong resident of Detroit whose law enforcement background would be ideal for a city challenged by high crime.

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(Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

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