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Detroit Mayoral Race Ripens

Napoleon and Duggan release their improvement plans.



The Detroit mayoral contest has finally started to heat up.

Not that we haven’t had any fireworks until now. Over the past several months, the whole “Duggan is on the ballot … now he’s off … now he’s a write-in … can you spell his name …” thing has spiced things up — although the identity of the two finalists was never really in doubt.

And Duggan’s historic write-in victory has written a new twist into Detroit political lore. Even though we had the vote-count challenge, the candidates themselves had been pretty quiet. But now they’re rolling out their plans for neighborhood regeneration and I expect they’ll bring the noise on a lot of things in the weeks leading up to the November election.

It’s nice to see that Napoleon has gotten off the I-am-a-Detroiter kick for now and Duggan has gotten past teaching us how to spell his name as we move on to more substantive issues. The next checkpoint is finding out what the candidates really stand for. We’ve begun to get glimpses of that the past couple of weeks.

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon rolled out the more detailed “One Square Mile” portion of his “Detroit’s Neighborhood Growth Strategy.” Duggan’s plan, “Every Neighborhood has a Future,” hinges on consolidating some 15 city departments into a single Department of Neighborhoods.

One Square Mile

“We will never transform our city until we can affirm our neighborhoods as safe,” Napoleon states in his plan, which can be found at The sheriff plans to achieve a 50 percent reduction in crime by assigning one police officer to each square mile of the city. That officer will be tasked with organizing block clubs, conducting community meetings, on at least a monthly basis, conducting business threat assessments and home security reviews, maintaining a business watch, following up on every 911 call from that area — and other duties. It calls on that officer to “be a transformational force for his/her square mile.”

Dept. of Neighborhoods

“It will take thoughtful government action coordinated with commitment and energy of the more than 200 block clubs and neighborhood groups already working in this city,” Duggan states in his plan, which can be found at

The DN idea is just the first in Duggan’s 10-point plan. However, most of what comes after this depends on the new department being in place. So, if the first one doesn’t materialize then the others don’t much matter.

The interesting thing here is the DN is to be a “decentralized” department, with an office in each of the seven city council districts. These offices will be “accountable for all services related to neighborhood development.”

Know Your Fruit: Neither of these plans is the full menu of what the candidates plan to do and they are focused somewhat differently, so a direct comparison is not appropriate. You can’t compare apples to oranges, but sometimes you have to decide which fruit you’re going to eat. So I’ll make a few assessments.

I find it interesting that both candidates are very neighborhood-focused in their approaches, with nary a word about bringing back downtown. Does this mean that downtown redevelopment is far enough along that it doesn’t need to be addressed as a campaign issue? Or does it just mean that the candidates have assessed that talking neighborhoods is a better path to election than talking downtown?

However, their approaches are different. Napoleon is a police officer; that’s the way he thinks. So his approach to neighborhoods is through policing. Duggan is an administrator; his approach to neighborhoods is administrative.

Napoleon discusses having police officers organizing block clubs and leading community meetings. Duggan talks about working with the more than 200 block clubs and neighborhood groups “working with the city” and providing them with resources to do a better job.

Right there is a clue for what kind of mayor they will be. So as you decide your voting choice, it’s pretty much between a cop and a bureaucrat. Napoleon says he will protect you; Duggan says he will run this ship correctly. Which one do you want? Really, it’s up to you.

Piece By Piece: It’s also telling that each candidate took an approach that breaks the city down into smaller segments. Napoleon has 133 different square mile segments and Duggan works from the seven city council districts.

Mute Points: So far we haven’t heard anything about the pending Detroit bankruptcy or much about emergency manager Kevyn Orr (other than they just wish he’d go away after the election), not to mention burning issues such as the Detroit Incinerator, Matty Moroun’s shenanigans on the riverfront or the Detroit Future City strategic framework that the Bing Administration spent a couple of years putting together.

And while things might be going well downtown, it would be nice to know what they think about it and what direction they intend to nudge things as mayor. Should taxpayers foot the bill for the new hockey stadium? There are a lot of questions out there with no discernible answers.

Black-White Politics: I’m off on a totally different subject here. There’s an undercurrent of race in this year’s mayoral race. Duggan is the first competitive white candidate to run for Detroit mayor in a long time and, indeed, seems to be the frontrunner. I haven’t seen any polls since the primary; however the primary is a pretty definitive poll and it indicates Duggan could well win this thing. However, remember that in 2005 Freman Hendrix won the primary and lost the election. Things do change.

I was at a social gathering with some progressive brothers and sisters recently when the race subject was discussed. One thing that came up is that Detroiters have consistently voted white people into office over the years. On City Council alone, Sheila Cockrel, Maryann Mahaffey, Mel Ravitz, Carl Levin. Jack Kelly and David Eberhard have been elected by Detroit voters since 1972 when Coleman Young ushered in the era of black political dominance in Detroit. Maryann Mahaffey was on council from 1973 to 2005. For 12 of those years she won the most votes to become City Council president, and could well have run a successful mayoral campaign had she chosen to do so.

Detroiter voting for white candidates is nothing new. Indeed, according to a Free Press analysis of this year’s primary, if only the votes of black people in the primary were counted Duggan would still have won.

There’s a black president in Washington D.C. In Detroit we’ve had black candidates running as blacker-than-thou against other black candidates. So don’t get your panties in a bunch about a white guy running for mayor.

Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Send comments to


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