Mayor-elect Dave Bing celebrates his victory Tuesday night. Bing should take office in about a week after the votes are certified. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)
Detroit --Retired Detroit Pistons great and political newcomer Dave Bing made a dramatic political debut Tuesday, riding a platform as a change agent to a come-from-behind upset of Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr.
With light turnout, Bing outlasted Cockrel, the son of a political icon, by 52-48 percent. Bing serves until year's end and should take office in about a week once the results are certified by the Board of Canvassers. Cockrel returns to lead the council, a post he held before becoming mayor in September when Kwame Kilpatrick resigned and went to jail.
"The real work starts now," said Bing, 65, an NBA Hall of Famer and owner of the Bing Group, to loud cheers at the Doubletree Suites Fort Shelby Hotel.
"What we will bring ... is efficiency, transparency, honesty and integrity back to the mayor's office."
Cockrel, who led in the polls, lost to a first-time politician despite the backing of nearly every powerful union in the city and matching Bing in fundraising in a race that cost more than $2 million. He thanked his staff at a banquet hall in southwest Detroit, pledged his support to Bing and conceded at 11:30 p.m.
"You have not seen the last of me," Cockrel said.
He challenged Bing, who moved last fall from Franklin for the race, to get to know the city.
"Hang out with the brothers in front of the liquor store, drinking 40s out of paper bags. .. Get to know that. Get to understand and know the people you'll be representing."
About 15 percent of voters turned out to help Bing win, continuing the momentum he began after finishing first in the Feb. 24 primary.
Tim Kiska, a University of Michigan-Dearborn professor who analyzed results for The Detroit News, said Bing even won absentee votes, which Cockrel had carried in the primary. Voters also approved a proposal to begin rewriting the city charter, 78-22 percent.
Kiska said residents sent a clear message to a City Hall beset for the last year by scandal.
"The voters were just honked off," Kiska said.
EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn, whose poll last week showed Cockrel with the lead, said late endorsements of Bing may have swayed large swaths of undecided voters. In the past six days, Freman Hendrix, a former deputy mayor who finished third in the February primary, and civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson endorsed Bing.
"He ended up getting the momentum," said Porn.
Earlier Hendrix supporters said they would favor Bing if their candidate wasn't in the race. "That was a difference maker," Porn said.
Voter Nicole Wells said Hendrix's endorsement helped "seal the deal."
"I'm really ready for something new in Detroit politics," Wells said. "I would love to see a revamp of the entire political system here, including the people."
Bing's victory is part of an unprecedented cycle of four elections in one year, prompted by Kilpatrick's resignation. Voters return for an Aug. 4 primary and Nov. 3 general election to chose a four-year mayor.
Inside Bing's raucous victory party, the Rev. Wendell Anthony led chants of "Dave Bing is the real thing" and cautioned that "the game ain't over."
"There are two more quarters left," said Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP. "The third quarter is in August. The fourth quarter is in November. (But) it's going to be going into those quarters with Dave Bing as captain."
Cockrel has said he plans on running again.
The filing deadline is Tuesday and already some 60 candidates have pulled petitions for the race.
"Detroit is in trouble," said Adolph Mongo, a political consultant and Cockrel supporter. "I thought it was going to be a close race. We might have four mayors in one year. Can we take that again?"
The Rev. Oscar King, the mayor's pastor, said the loss could build character for Cockrel.
"This is the first race that he's ever lost," King said "So this is a new area for him and character is built through two things: criticism and defeat. So what this will do, it will show everybody the man that he is."
Bing takes office facing a host of challenges, including a $300 million budget deficit and the prospect of mass layoffs among the city's 15,000 workers.
Bing, who has said he will work for free, has promised to retain Police Chief James Barren, but has been vague about other plans.
He's expected soon to announce a team of labor, law and other experts he promised would examine the city's workforce and right-size government.
Bing's first chance to exert his influence -- and work with a sometimes unpredictable council now led by Cockrel -- will be on the city's budget.
The council already has begun reviewing Cockrel's spending plan, but could scrap the process and start from scratch.
Bing supporters said they were drawn by his message of change, business experience and break from business as usual at City Hall.
Some such as Marcia Richardson, 54, said Cockrel had his chance and failed to impress.
"I'm interested in seeing more change than I've seen since Cockrel got into office," said Richardson, who lives on the east side.
"He's the one who was supposed to have a relationship and the connections. I know the city; everyone is really hurting right now with the economy, but we should see some services restored. ... Cockrel knew what was going on so he should have had a way to make things happen while he had the chance."
Cockrel earned high marks early in his eight months in office, winning kudos for a series of appointments and completing long-overdue audits.
But he picked a fight with the City Council and lost over the expansion of Cobo Center.
Some political observers, such as zoning board member Jonathan Kinloch, said the fight made Cockrel seem ineffective and fueled his defeat.