With polls showing Detroit’s mayoral election a virtual dead heat, voters might want to look at the prospective administrations of the two candidates. And that’s not a bad idea, said current mayoral spokesman Greg Bowens.
Whoever becomes mayor has direct control over appointing 170 budgeted paid positions (though Mayor Archer never filled more than 141 of these slots at any one time) and 450 unpaid positions on city boards and commissions. “Usually, when there’s a changeover in government, people are surprised at how far-reaching the mayor’s hand extends,” Bowens said. “The influence runs deep.”
But if you want to get a feel for what a Kilpatrick or Hill team will look like, too bad, because neither candidate is willing to give much info regarding the specifics of who will be filling key posts should they win.
Here’s what they are saying.
Kwame Kilpatrick says he wants new blood, an administration that would look very different from the current Archer team. The state legislator says he will conduct national searches before filling key posts such as chief of staff, police chief, department heads and urban planners.
“When you do a national search, whoever you pick will be the best,” explained Kilpatrick spokesperson Bob Berg.
For his right-hand person, Kilpatrick wants a chief of staff “responsible for the day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts operation of the city,” said Berg, a veteran of the Young administration.
Kilpatrick will “consider someone who’s been a city manager of fairly sizable cities,” Berg said. “Whoever it is, it must be someone with no political ambition of their own. It would have to be someone who is there to serve the city, and not to use the position as a political launching pad.”
Berg said that candidates could also include managers of “fairly” large organizations, though he wouldn’t clarify how big “fairly” means.
For police chief, Kilpatrick will consider current Chief Charles Wilson, Berg said, but Wilson will have to compete with candidates from across the country.
Is there a downside to recruiting outsiders?
“They would be working for a mayor who does know the area and does know the specifics of Detroit,” Berg said. To look for the downside of this outreach, he added, “is a very insular approach.”
At least before Sept. 11, Kilpatrick proclaimed over and over that he wants to “blow up” the city bureaucracy and radically reorganize departments.
Kilpatrick pointed out that his persona will help Detroit get the talent it needs.
“To get the brightest talent, you need someone people can believe in, that people can believe is the future,” he said. “You need a mayor that can go across the country and convince people to invest in Detroit.”
For his part, the old pro serving as spokesperson for the Kilpatrick campaign doesn’t see himself transitioning to a job in the new administration should Kwame win.
“I have a company to run,” Berg said.
Like his opponent, Gil Hill’s not into naming names when it comes to identifying potential department heads prior to the Nov. 6 election.
“It’s too premature to declare who he will keep or not keep,” says Teresa Blossom, Hill’s press secretary.
He is, however, willing to identify at least one person who will play a top role in a Hill administration. Charlie Williams, the man directing Hill’s campaign, will be by his side in some capacity should the City Council president prevail on Election Day.
An engaging man who describes himself as a “people person,” Williams ran five city departments under Coleman Young and served as his chief of staff. When Young decided not to seek a sixth term, he initially said that Williams was the only person he’d be willing to endorse as a successor. But Williams opted out of the race, and Young eventually gave his backing to Sharon McPhail in her race against Dennis Archer.
Following his years with Young, Williams served two years as president of New Detroit — a civic betterment organization — and a year as chief of staff for Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara, who once called Williams the “Michael Jordan of Detroit politics.”
The 54-year-old Detroiter also has spent much of his time — starting more than 20 years ago — racing horses in Florida and Ohio.
“I used to go to the racetrack for sport,” he says. “But I wanted to know what goes on behind the scenes.”
The same is true in politics, where Williams is widely regarded as an expert at learning how things run, then making them run better. As director of the Housing Department he managed to bring the vacancy rate down from 23 percent to 11 percent in the early 1980s. As head of the Water Department from 1983 to 1992, he helped smooth out the bitter relationship between Detroit and its suburban customers.
Asked why he didn’t run for mayor himself, Williams laughed and said, “because Gil’s running.”
Asked if he plans on being Hill’s chief of staff, Williams said, “That’s for him to decide.” Hill told Metro Times that Williams will play a “big role in running the city” but would not say what his title would be.
Two other prominent Hill supporters — former Police Chief Benny Napoleon and former Deputy Mayor Freman Hendrix — definitely won’t be part of a Hill administration. According to the candidate, the two men can’t afford to leave their lucrative private-sector jobs.
What about the remainder of Hill’s staff and the city departments? Blossom says that Hill is “after qualified people to do the job. With the state and city deficits, “it will take creative management.”Lisa M. Collins and Ann Mullen are Metro Times staff writers. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org