Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Savior Among Them?

It's been almost 40 years since the election of a Detroit mayor has had even a sniff of excitement and suspense to it.

It was back in 1973, when Coleman Young, a rabble-rousing Civil Rights proponent, squared off against incumbent Roman Gribbs. Young became the city's first black mayor.

And to this day, Gribbs remains Detroit's last white mayor.

Once Young got a toe hold in the mayor's office, there wasn't anyone who could slow him down, let alone stop him.

1977. 1981. 1985. 1989.

In all those elections, Young cruised to victory. Even U.S. Rep. John Conyers' brief run in '89 was ineffective against Hizzoner's machine.

The 1993 election, won by Dennis Archer, had a smidgen of suspense, but Archer was seen as the anti-Young and the city was in the mood for a change---at least in terms of personality and age.

Nothing suspenseful or all that important about the 1997 election, either, which kept Archer in office for four more years.

In 2001, Kwame Kilpatrick was elected, but there was a feeling of fait accomplit about that campaign.

I would say that 2001 was the last time the City of Detroit had its hopes truly raised by an incoming mayor. It was a turning point that, sadly, turned the wrong way.

Had Kwame done with the mayor's job what he could have---with the talent and charisma he possessed---Detroit would have gone down a much rosier path than the one it's currently on.

Kilpatrick had it all and he wasted it. I maintain it's one of Urban America's saddest stories. Ever.

So here we are in 2012, a little more than a year before the next Detroit mayoral election.

This one has the potential to be not only the most suspenseful, but the most important, period, since Young's 1973 win over Gribbs.

The new mayor---or Dave Bing, if he's re-elected, will preside over Detroit in perhaps its darkest hour. And that's saying something.


Mike Duggan: Detroit's first white mayor in 40 years?

 
There's the financial mess, of course. But that's only part of it. There's the very future of Detroit as a viable big U.S. city. There's a broken infrastructure and the need to somehow coax and cajole businesses to both plant stakes and keep from pulling them up and leaving.

There's the ever-growing problem of kids without dads, one of the worst school systems in America, rampant crime (including too many children dying violently), and an overall malaise and increase in pessimism among the crucial suburbanites who simply don't believe in Detroit anymore.

Into this morass will step the mayor, and it's not too dramatic to suggest that where Detroit goes from here will determine whether it will make it, or not.

So the players are these, most likely: Bing, who is being coy but who insiders believe will run again; Mike Duggan, the head of the Detroit Medical Center and a man steeped in machine politics and someone known as a doer, not just a talker---and someone who is making private noises about running; and perhaps current Wayne County Sheriff and former Detroit Police Chief Benny Napoleon, who spoke openly the other day about a 2013 run and how he understands crime like nobody else.in town.

Duggan, of course, is white, and there hasn't been a white mayor of Detroit since (drumroll please) Roman Gribbs.

The 2013 mayoral campaign in Detroit figures to be the most intense, most crucial, and ultimately the most important in the city's history.

For a change.


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