February 25, 2009 at 1:00 am

Editorial: In mayoral primary, Detroiters get it right

Bing )

Detroiters picked the right two candidates to move forward in the long process of electing a new mayor. Dave Bing and Ken Cockrel Jr. will provide voters with a distinct choice, but one with a minimal down side.

Either one is capable of leading the city back to health, and both bring the key ingredient of personal integrity that City Hall so desperately needs.

Bing, an industrialist and civic leader, and Cockrel, the city council president who became interim mayor with the resignation of Kwame Kilpatrick, will face off May 5 in the general election.

While both have the character and skills to do the job, they come from vastly different backgrounds and are likely to bring different approaches to the job.

Bing has spent the past 32 years in the steel business, creating jobs in the city while committing himself to its revival. He's rebuilt neighborhoods and served on influential civic organizations, such as Detroit Renaissance. He can be counted on to bring a businessman's discipline and his own no-nonsense style to running Detroit.

Cockrel is a politician, well-versed in the workings of city government. As interim mayor, he has shown some promise, although his response to the budget crisis has been too timid. He was willing to take a political risk in backing the transfer of Cobo Center to a regional authority, and that suggests he will put the good of the city first.

Both Bing and Cockrel support a more cooperative regional relationship. That's essential. Detroit can't survive on its own.

They also both back a stronger role for the mayor in the troubled Detroit Public School system, although Bing has been more active on the issue of education reform.

Education must be central to the coming campaign. Detroit's population loss is directly tied to the failure of its public schools. No mayor can hope to revive the city as long as the schools remain so dysfunctional.

The other major issues of this campaign are public safety and the budget deficit.

As we said, Cockrel's plan for erasing the deficit doesn't go far enough in addressing the structural cost problem. He has to show voters how he'll at last put an end to the chronic budget shortfall.

Bing has resisted offering specific budget solutions, saying he needs to get inside City Hall first to examine the problem. But if he wins in May, he'll take over as mayor immediately. He has to get a more detailed plan ready so voters can be confident he's prepared to tackle the budget.

On crime, Cockrel got off to a good start with his appointment of Jim Barren as police chief. And Bing hasn't ruled out keeping him aboard.

With the field narrowed to two, voters now have ten weeks to decide whether a businessman or a politician is the best hope for reviving Detroit.

Detroiters haven't been known for using the ballot box to fix the city's problem. The city council, with its roster of embarrassments, is testament to that.

But Tuesday, although few of them went to the polls, city voters acted in their own best interest.