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Duggan: ‘Now the real work begins’

The Detroit News: November, 5 2013

By Mike Wilkinson, Darren A. Nichols and Steve Pardo

Detroit— Mike Duggan overcame questions about his outsider status to become Detroit’s first white mayor in about four decades, beating Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon on Tuesday in a campaign about who could best revitalize a failing city.

For Duggan, born in Detroit but who lived much of his life in the western Wayne County suburb of Livonia, it was a victory rooted in his turnaround persona that may also reflect a move away from decades of racial politics.

He will replace one-term Mayor Dave Bing in a city where 83 percent of the residents are black and in a region where racial divisions have strained city-suburb relations until recently.

A beaming Duggan Tuesday made a veiled reference to race but immediately brushed it aside to focus squarely on the monumental tasks that voters decided to put in his hands — and which he’ll share with an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder who holds the power to make most major decisions.

“What we have in common is much more powerful than what divides us. Now the real work begins,” Duggan said. “They want somebody to go into City Hall, get rid of the bureaucracy and get city services going.”

Both Duggan and Napoleon sought to avoid an emergency manager, but Duggan said he’d work with Kevyn Orr.

Duggan will also work with a new city council to address huge problems — high crime, poor services — with limited finances. The city has become synonymous with civic dysfunction as it’s been staggered by the near constant loss of people for the better part of 60 years.

On Tuesday night, Orr called Duggan to congratulate him and said he’d meet with him soon.

“In this time of important change for the City, Detroiters have come together to voice their desire for progress,” Orr said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Mayor-elect Mike Duggan to build the vibrant and strong future the citizens of Detroit deserve.”

What became the more powerful factor in the election of Duggan was his Mr. Fix-It resume, not his complexion.

“This man has a plan for everything,” Arthur White, 46, said Tuesday after he voted in northwest Detroit Tuesday.

The mood at Duggan’s victory party was euphoric. It has been a long haul for supporters who had to rally from the primary, when Duggan got knocked off the ballot and had to run as a write-in. He beat Napoleon then in a surprising 52-30 percent rout and again Tuesday, winning 55-45 percent.

In beating the sheriff, Duggan knocked off a candidate who campaigned on his goal to make the city a place where “Detroiters run Detroit.” Duggan riffed off that theme during his victory speech, acknowledging the work ahead as the city fights to rebuild.

“”Detroit’s turnaround will not occur until every day Detroiters are involved in that effort. … We need everybody to pull together,” Duggan said.

Duggan overcame in Napoleon a lifelong Detroiter who touted his ties to a city where he was once police chief. On Tuesday night, Napoleon said he ran into a better-funded candidate and vowed to run again in four years.

“We got outspent 5-1. We worked very hard (and) I appreciate all your efforts you did to put us this far,” he said, thanking organized labor and local clergy. “This was a defining moment for this community. What we learned is voter apathy can’t exist in this community if we want to change it.”

“Things are not over,” he said. “You will see me again.”

Turnout was up slightly from 2009, with just over one quarter of registered voters casting ballots over 2009’s 22.6 percent turnout.

Gov. Rick Snyder, who played a role in the campaign because of alleged close ties between Duggan and the appointment of the emergency manager, congratulated Duggan in a statement, acknowledging his business skills.

“I look forward to working with him on making Detroit a safe and attractive place for people to live, work, invest, and do business,” Snyder said. “Mayor-elect Duggan’s financial acumen and experience in turning around the Detroit Medical Center and other entities should serve him well in his new role,” Snyder said in the statement.

As Duggan takes over for Bing, who didn’t seek re-election, he’ll have to share leadership with an emergency manager Snyder appointed to steer the city from the financial abyss.

Orr is trying to convince a bankruptcy judge to allow him to wipe out billions of dollars in city debt, a move that could slash pay and pensions.

It was against this backdrop that voters opted for the turnaround candidate who moved from Livonia in February 2012 to the Palmer Woods neighborhood of Detroit.

He then left his post as CEO of the eight-hospital Detroit Medical Center to run a campaign that got substantial help from the city’s business elite — the pro-Duggan super political action committee Turnaround Detroit outraised the pro-Napoleon super PAC Detroit Forward $2.8 million to $300,000 mostly through corporate donations. The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce was among the first to congratulate Duggan on his victory.

“(W)e are excited about Mike’s energy, vision and most importantly, the turnaround expertise he brings to City Hall, said Sandy K. Baruah, the chamber president and CEO, in a statement. “Mike’s leadership and proven success will serve Detroit well. We look forward to assisting the Duggan administration in any possible way in working to move the city forward.”

Duggan, 55, trumpeted his work at the DMC and in other posts in his career, pointing to his ability to fix what was wrong. He now finds himself leader of city beset with financial and social woes.

When Napoleon made repeated references to Duggan’s former home in Livonia and touted himself as the candidate for Detroiters, others felt he was using race. He even mocked Duggan’s residency in Palmer Woods.

“Palmer Woods is not Detroit,” Napoleon said in January, adding Duggan had not dealt with the tough life in the city. “He cannot say he has the common experiences that Detroiters have.”

But voters disagreed, looking to his work in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office, as deputy Wayne County executve and at the SMART regional bus agency. Those became more important than race and Detroit voters joined those in majority-black cities across the country that have recently elected white mayors, including Flint, New Orleans and East Orange, New Jersey.

“When we started this campaign, we started with the assumption that Detroiters would select someone based on their ability, not based on their appearance,” said Bryan Barnhill II, Duggan campaign manager.

Duggan mentioned it Tuesday night.

“The way we are going to rebuild this city is to value every single person in our community,” Duggan said. “It will no longer matter if you are black, brown or white; it will no longer matter if you are Christian, Jew or Muslim. … We want all of your talents. Only in that way, will we rebuild a Detroit we deserve.”

Yet just months ago Duggan looked like a failed candidate, his primary chances shattered when he was knocked off the ballot because he filed his petitions before he’d lived in the city a full year. But he was persuaded to re-enter the race as a write-in and qualified for the November ballot.

Duggan then rode that unlikely win into a chance to revitalize a city in desperate need of resuscitation.