Metro Times: A centerpiece of your campaign has been the creation of a “Department of Neighborhoods.” Have you run a cost-benefit analysis to determine what type of savings the city would realize from a consolidation of that size?
Mike Duggan: Well, right now there are 14 different agencies involved in affecting quality of life in our neighborhoods, and people have to know: “Do I call the General Services Department when the weeds are overgrown in the vacant lot? Do I call the DPW when there’s trash? Do I call the Planning and Economic Development Department when we need demolition?”
The system is so fragmented; it’s completely ineffective, as pretty much everybody in the city can tell you. And so, I do believe when you put all 14 operations into a single Department of Neighborhoods, with a single point of accountability, people will have one place to [call] — whether it’s [about] the vacant lot they want to buy next door to their house; the burned-out abandoned building on the block; the vacant lot that isn’t cut — and that’s what we need. We need to put all the services to rebuild this neighborhood in a single department.
MT: With this consolidation there’s likely going to be some attrition within existing departments. How do you sell that?
Duggan: We’ll have to analyze that, but you would expect up in the upper management level there may be duplication. But when you look at the number of folks we have in code enforcement, we have fewer building code enforcers than in the city of Lansing, and so if we did this right, if we had fewer senior managers and more people on the street working and cleaning up the city, I think that’d be a good thing.
MT: Post-bankruptcy, you’ll be inheriting a largely debt-free but poor city; how do you make it economically viable moving forward?
Duggan: Everything starts with businesses and jobs. We have to create the environment where this is where people want to come, and this city is not going to come back with auto plants coming in with 5,000 jobs at a time. It will come back when a lot of entrepreneurs start up a lot of businesses and feed off each other and build together. That’s the way great cities in America are being built these days. And so I want to take the vacant storefronts, just as I took the vacant buildings as a prosecutor, but take the vacant buildings from the people who have walked away from them.
I want to make them available to entrepreneurs for a dollar so they can build these businesses in these neighborhoods. I want to clean out the permitting process that is currently driving businesses out of this town and make it the most efficient in Michigan; and I want to partner our existing business owners as mentors to the new entrepreneurs with a system like eHarmony or Match.com.
If we can create that environment where entrepreneurs feel Detroit is a place that’s easy to set up your new business, we can start to grow right from our own community the seeds of our rebirth.
MT: As Wayne County Prosecutor, you were able to reduce blight through the courts — and you mentioned how you would employ the same tactics to truncate the city, incentivizing people to create pockets of density — after all your house parties, how has that been received?
Duggan: With applause; there’s no doubt about it and we’ve talked about it every house party. When I’m in the neighborhoods where there are only a handful of houses left, people don’t want to be told what to do. People have raised their families, it’s been their home — in many cases, even though they’re one of the last few, they’re still planting flowers and maintaining their own house — and when Mayor Bing first proposed shutting off their streetlights and stopping fixing their roads, it was offensive.
What we’re talking about doing is something that is totally positive; we’ve created incentive zones, and we say to people who live in sparsely populated areas, “You’re welcome to stay, but if you wanna move, we will give you triple credit on the value of your house.”
So if your house is appraised for $10,000, we will be auctioning homes around the city every day; you’ll have up to $30,000 in credit. You can move into a neighborhood where they’ve only got one or two abandoned houses on the block. You can help fill in that neighborhood, and when I’ve talked to the people in the stronger neighborhood, do they want that person that maintains their property even when their community around them was going? Absolutely.
So we’re going to make it an option and I think — as people see that they can move into a nicer home and a safer neighborhood and it’s totally at their choice, their timetable and their location — I think people are going to take advantage. It gets a great reception at every meeting.
MT: And you’ll be able to fund that through …
Duggan: I funded the entire abandoned property program as a prosecutor by the sale of the houses. But think about what we’ve got: We have somebody living in a house where there’s only a couple [houses] left on the block. We’ve got a vacant building that’s producing no taxes. I put that vacant building up for auction.
If we can get the family to move from the sparse area into the other area, it hasn’t cost us anything. They’ve filled in a house that wasn’t paying taxes and so you’ve got the overall cost of your legal team and the like, but those houses that we’re selling at market rate, I would hope would pay for those things.
MT: Are you saying it’s a lateral expenditure?
Duggan: It is. You’ve got an empty house paying no taxes, and you’ve got a person in a run-down area paying taxes on that house. All we do is we move them to a different location but now you’ve filled in the other neighborhood, and think about it — when you fill in the one or two vacant houses on a stable block, you raise the property values of everybody on that block. It produces revenue for you; it keeps your residents in the city and it has enormous value.
MT: Best-case scenario, the plan works and sparsely populated blocks become completely vacant. What happens to those vacated blocks?
Duggan: This is where the ‘Department of Neighborhoods’ comes in. We will be set up in each of the seven City Council districts; and the district manager for that district will sit down with the neighborhood groups and make that decision together.
One neighborhood may say, “Let’s create a community garden in this property.” Another neighborhood may say, “Let’s put in some recreation area with volleyball courts and a horseshoe pit,” which is being done in a number of areas in the city by neighbors. In another area, you may be able to build new houses or create some kind of a business, and so we would make the decisions on each vacated area in partnership with the neighbors.
MT: Skeptics say you are using this mayoral run to eventually springboard to a higher political office, like governor or U.S senator? Will you state on the record you won’t seek another elected office?
Duggan: It would’ve been a lot easier to run for governor, if I wanted to be governor, than to run for mayor first. So no, mayor of Detroit is where my heart is and it’ll be the last political office I ever hold.
MT: There have been many questions raised about how much you personally gained from the sale of the Detroit Medical Center. Is there a slush fund? What’s the truth?
Duggan: The truth is public and on all the SEC filings; yes, I got several thousand shares of stock, which I was not expecting, and when I did, my wife and I put all of those shares of stock into a scholarship fund, which was passed out to pay college tuition for the children of DMC employees. Every dollar that I was rewarded as a result of that transaction went to the DMC employees in scholarship money.
MT: There’s been some grousing about your graduating class from the McNamara political machine: Jennifer Granholm, Freman Hendrix, Hansen Clarke and others. Do you regret anything about the way that you and Ed McNamara ran Wayne County in the 1990s?
Duggan: I regret the fact that we had one of our managers charged with a felony for hitting up an airport contractor to build him a kitchen. It was embarrassing and painful, but it was one incident and it was not a pattern. If you look at the 16 years that McNamara was there — finishing with 14 straight balanced budgets, building that modern airport we have out of Metro, building Comerica Park, building Ford Field — I think we did an enormous amount of good.
I won’t tell you we never made a mistake, but I think the county was much better off. And when we left Wayne County, the budget was balanced and the pension fund was fully funded. I think there are probably some people who’d like to see those days again.
MT: Thus far, race has been kept at bay during this campaign. With your double-digit lead in the polls, do you expect that to change with only a few weeks left?
Duggan: I don’t know. I’m not going to change what I’m doing.
MT: The proposed new home for the Red Wings that Mike Ilitch wants — do you support using a combination of taxpayer dollars to build it?
Duggan: I need to see the details on how Detroiters get access to those businesses and those jobs. I want to make sure — as we did when we built Comerica Park and Ford Field — that local companies and local employees are doing a huge amount of the work.
But subject to that, I do support [a new stadium] for this reason: The great majority of tax dollars in this deal are state tax dollars, and they are dollars Lansing would be [otherwise] spending in other parts of Michigan. I’m glad to finally see our state tax dollars coming back here to Detroit. But as I said, I want to make sure Detroiters get access to the businesses and the jobs as we review that agreement.