In two weeks Detroiters will select their next mayor. Three months after that they will go to the polls again and vote in a mayoral primary for the second time this year. And three months after that they will again vote for a mayor; the winner of this contest will have the luxury of serving a full four years before facing voters again. For the winner of the May 5 contest, though, there is a guarantee of only six months in office.
As we contended in January, before the last mayoral primary, unless there is compelling reason to oust incumbent Ken Cockrel Jr. now, it is in the city's best interests to keep him in office at least for the interim. At this point, a shift in administrations — which would be immediate — with the prospect of yet another change in November, offers the prospect of too much disruption at a critical time.
Perhaps we would be arguing differently were challenger Dave Bing clearly the better choice, but we remain unconvinced. He promises to sweep in with his SWAT team of unnamed experts and reform the city's government in as little as 30 days, and no longer than 90. Bing is a businessman with no experience governing, a chief executive accustomed to snapping off orders. But Detroit's mayor has to assemble an administrative team and work with both a civil service bureaucracy and the City Council. We're skeptical.
In our primary interview with him, Bing demonstrated a surprising lack of depth when it came to describing specific solutions to the city's many problems. And other than more heated jabs at the Cockrel administration, there's been little more specificity in Round 2 of this campaign.
Cockrel, on the other hand, does have a working knowledge of city government and a strong team — including chief financial officer Joe Harris, deputy mayor Saul Green and police chief James Barren (the latter winning particular praise from Bing, who says he'd ask him to stay if elected). But we share the concern of others that Cockrel and his team have been too slow to put forward a cohesive vision, let alone the short-term plans to keep the city in motion.
On his major initiative of the last few months, we saw considerable merit in his Cobo expansion plan, and believe its failure said more about the politics of the City Council than council's sound assessment of public policy. Yet, since the state legislation in the Cobo deal stipulated the City Council's approval, we thought Cockrel's veto of their rejection was meaningless and time-consuming, with little hope of prevailing in the courts.
Still, we think voters should give Ken Cockrel Jr. the remainder of this term. The opportunity to replace him — and perhaps a better alternative — will come soon enough. And while we might have waited for Thursday's final debate to make our call, we feel it more important to take our position and open next week's letters page for debate before the vote
On the other major question facing Detroit voters, moving forward with a revision of the city charter, we have no equivocation. The Kilpatrick saga laid bare a city without the basic tools to confront corruption at its highest level. The same charter has foisted on us the lunacy of four mayoral elections in one year. And with the heat for district council elections seemingly rising to a boil, the charter commission can address that issue as well.