Bucking the System (For Now)

The question may no longer be, will Detroit's residents elect a white mayor? It may be, by how large of a margin?

Mike Duggan kicked butt in Tuesday's primary election---as a write-in candidate. He captured nearly 50% of the (granted, paltry) voter turnout, garnering about 16,000 more votes than Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

Again, Duggan did all this as a write-in candidate.

Now, write-in candidates typically don't register a blip in elections, let alone in a big city like Detroit. Their candidacies are usually symbolic in nature; afterthoughts, or in protest.

Normally, the only place you can get written in and win is in a high school student council election.

So this is big doings, that Duggan, the former CEO of the DMC and a deputy Wayne County Executive under Ed McNamara, whose mayoral candidacy looked to be dead less than two months ago, not only gathered traction with his write-in candidacy, he trampled the competition.

Duggan got about 44,000 write-ins. Tom Barrow, the oft candidate who 20+ years ago gave Coleman Young a mild scare and who was Duggan's biggest legal thorn in trying to keep Duggan off the ballot, managed a meager 3,500 votes, give or take.

Think about this for a moment. Detroit, a city that some thought would never see a white mayor again---ever---has written in a white man to the tune of a 60/40 split between he and his closest competitor, who just happens to be a former Detroit Police Chief as well.

Conventional wisdom says that, based on Tuesday's primary results, Duggan should wipe the floor with Napoleon in the general election in November.

But Detroit is anything but a conventional electorate, and this has been anything but a conventional race.

It's one thing to finish in the top two in August. It's quite another to finish first in November. That goes for just about every municipality in the country.

Duggan won Tuesday's primary with ease. Despite being removed from the printed ballot on a technicality in June, and even saying that he was no longer a candidate at that time, Duggan decided to go the write-in route when his supporters urged him to continue the battle.

Good thing he listened to them.

Duggan didn't have much time to gather grass root support. The primary was less than 8 weeks away when his name was ordered off the ballot due to a technicality regarding when he officially became a city resident versus the filing deadline rules. Which is exactly what Barrow wanted.

If you know you can't beat a guy at the polls, knock him out of the race.

Barrow tried to stomp out Duggan's candidacy and thus remove one road block in his path to the Manoogian Mansion, but it didn't work.

The irony is, Barrow was waylaid by the very spirit that he purported to represent.

The staggering victory by Duggan illuminated a truism in Detroit politics: the city loves an underdog. It loves the idea of someone bucking "the system," and bouncing back when that system tries to squash the "victim"---white or black, apparently.

The voters looked at Duggan and didn't see skin color---they saw determination and grit.

Now, how that will play out in November, when Duggan---his name still must be written in---goes up against Napoleon, remains to be seen. It's likely that Duggan will have to rely on more than "I was the guy they tried to get rid of", as he seemingly did on Tuesday.

It will come down to message and that all-too-important factor of spending---Duggan outspent Napoleon by an estimated 4-1 leading up to Tuesday's primary.

Mike Duggan, should voters care to scratch past the surface of a man they feel was wronged, has some unsavory skeletons, politically. His close ties to McNamara and the late County Executive's political machine will make some folks squirm. Undoubtedly the Napoleon camp will try to twist the DMC era under Duggan into something less than spectacular and more about opportunism.

Regardless, this promises to be the most intriguing race for Detroit mayor in many people's lifetimes, especially when you consider the backdrop of bankruptcy and the still present Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr.

Mike Duggan has his primary victory, built largely on voter sympathy. He was, in their eyes, a harassed man who refused to give up---even though his first inclination after a judge's decision to keep him off the ballot was to do just that. No matter. He didn't give up, ultimately. And that plays well in Detroit, particularly when it's not a general election.

But will it play in November?

It's going to be a fun 90 days.


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