October 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Poll: Detroit residents have little confidence in leaders

Residents show little confidence in the Detroit City Council’s handling of the city’s fiscal problems. More than 57 percent of poll respondents said the council does not represent his or her interests, while more than 62 percent disapprove of the job being done by elected city leaders. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit — City residents, frustrated by crumbling neighborhoods and poor services, are disenchanted with their city leaders and have no confidence in their ability to turn Detroit's problems around, a poll commissioned by The Detroit News shows.

The poll, conducted Sept. 22-25 by the Chicago-based Glengariff Group Inc. and funded by the Thompson Foundation, shows residents believe the current leadership is on the wrong track.

More than 63 percent say they have no faith in Mayor Dave Bing or the Detroit City Council to fix the city, and 82 percent say Bing does not deserve to be re-elected.

"As I looked at these numbers, it struck me clearly Detroit residents are angry with the elected leadership," said Richard Czuba, who conducted the poll for The News. "This isn't a political poll. We talked to all residents. (But) voters are angry. … There is just an overall feeling things are not going well."

Among them is northwest side resident Cecil Brown, 51. The survey respondent chuckled and suggested he shouldn't talk about Bing or the council's job performance because he'd start cursing.

"It's a simple deal. Let them try to take public transportation and see how they like it," said Brown, 51, who lives on Outer Drive near Wyoming.

"Let them do about a week of taking public transportation to work or a medical appointment. Bing is just not strong enough to do anything. He's not tearing down these vacant houses."

City Council president Charles Pugh said the poll numbers reflect clear frustration among city residents, and he finds himself "frustrated as well."

Pugh credited current council members for bringing more dignity to the panel, but he acknowledges recent squabbles with the mayor's office haven't helped.

"I am disappointed most with our lack of cohesiveness with the mayor's office, but it's not us," Pugh said. "The mayor has not been more cooperative with the council (and) that may be driving what disappoints people.

"The reality is we approve more than 95 percent of what the mayor sends our way."

The composition of the council will change next year when the city switches to district-based elections for the first time since 1918.

Vince Keenan, an organizer of the council-by-district proposal in 2009, said he's hopeful it will encourage better leadership at a more local level.

"We have to be careful about the expectation that this is the silver bullet," said Keenan, executive director of publius.org, a nonprofit voter advocacy group.

"(But) the ability for other local leaders to step up and challenge (poor leaders) will be there in a way that does not exist today in the (current) at-large system."

The Detroit News' poll, which sampled 800 Detroit residents by telephone, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The respondents were city residents and not necessarily likely voters.

The city's problems are numerous and well-chronicled. Among them: Thousands of abandoned, burned-out houses line city blocks; skyrocketing crime and many residents afraid to leave their home. Buses are chronically late; drivers walked off the job for a day last summer.

And a near-financial collapse had Detroit on the brink of a state takeover and was averted only with the signing of a consent decree in April. That deal gives the state significant control over the city's finances.

Eastside resident Alva Aldridge, 85, said she is fed up. Her street is plagued by broken street lights, standing water and "thugs" who hang around her house.

She said the city's leadership is simply not serving the public well.

"They are not doing a good job," said Aldridge. "We have lights out right now, and there's water running down my street. They (city leaders) are not servicing the public. It's very frustrating. That's why I stay in my house most of the time. I don't walk down the street anymore."

Who's at fault?

Nearly 33 percent of the respondents blame "past mayors" for the problems, with 16.4 percent blaming Kwame Kilpatrick. About 15.1 percent blame Bing.

According to the poll, 68 percent disapprove of Bing's performance as mayor. A majority — or 52 percent — strongly disapprove of Bing's work.

That means city residents are "in the market for a new mayor," Czuba said.

About 13 percent of the respondents said they are willing to re-elect Bing. That approval rating puts Bing at the level of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich while he was under a federal indictment, Czuba said.

Norma Austin, 45, a disabled homemaker who voted for Bing three years ago, said: "It's time for retirement" when referring to the mayor.

"It's too much on (Bing's) shoulders," said Austin, 45, who has lived on Marquette near Jefferson on the far east side for about two years. "I think he bit off too much because everything was in a bad condition. We're supposed to be going forward. But it seems like it's beendragged back and he must come up with a plan to go forward, butit's just too much for him.

"I think it's much too heavy for him right about now."

The respondents were equally tough on the Detroit City Council. About 62 percent said they disapprove of the council's job performance, with 42 percent saying they strongly disapprove.

And despite the consent agreement that's intended to restructure Detroit's finances, 63 percent said neither the City Council members nor Bing has a plan to turn the city around.

Pugh said that frustration among residents only motivates him to work harder. He points to the council getting blamed for the delivery of city services, which is Bing's responsibility.

When asked about the poll, City Hall released a statement saying: "The Mayor'soffice does not respond to poll results, primarily due to the variance in the number of respondents versusthe City's total population."

Pugh, meanwhile, said council members "get blamed for a lot of things we have nothing to do with. We don't have anything to do with the administration of city services."

'They act like children'

For Lorenzo Lockett, 49, it all boils down to leadership. Lockett said Bing and the council are like children who are squabbling over toys in the sandbox on the playground.

"They act like children. They should be like qualified professionals," said Lockett, who lives on Eight Mile near the Southfield Freeway.

"We're in financial disaster, look who's in charge? They have not come up with a plan that is viable and that's why the city is in bad shape.

"(It's) leadership. You put the right leader in the right position, he can mobilize the resources to fix crime, abandoned homes as well as make fire and EMS response time (better). We have unqualified leaders."

Added Austin: "It's definitely embarrassing for these type of people who have higher standards than the regular people and they just can't come to an agreement on issues that they are facing. It's just a big mess and it's not right."

About 53 percent of the respondents strongly approve of the job business leaders have done to turn the city around.

"(But) I'm really surprised in the face of what appears to be a pessimistic group of residents in Detroit, business leaders get very strong marks," Czuba said. "That says there is a lot of respect for the business leadership in Detroit that does not exist for the elected leadership."


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