CBS62 Senior Producer/Host Carol Cain, who moderated the mayoral debate, with candidates Sheriff Benny Napoleon, left, and former DMC CEO Mike Duggan. The forum aired as a special hour-long 'Michigan Matters' on Sunday. The event was sponsored by CBS 62, WWJ Newsradio 950 and the Michigan Chronicle. (Sheri Kowalski / CBS 62)
Detroit — Revitalizing city neighborhoods took center stage as the two candidates vying to become the city’s next mayor made their pitches on why each should lead the city.
Mike Duggan touted his restructuring experience, while Benny Napoleon continued to paint himself as the person to fix city neighborhoods when they squared off in the first of three televised debates in a special hour-long “Michigan Matters” show taped Friday.
Napoleon touted his $3.5 billion economic development plan for city neighborhoods. But Duggan challenged the plan calling it “completely unrealistic.”
Duggan said the last time Napoleon was visionary was when he fought for the now-failed Wayne County jail project that is millions over budget and has been scrapped by the county.
“This is an example you can say anything,” Duggan said. “If that would have worked, (former mayor) Dennis Archer would have drawn circles and filled the city up 20 years ago. It’s easy to say you’re going to do something. We ought to talk about what we’ve done, not what we’re going to do.”
Napoleon shot back.
“I didn’t go to the school of I can’t. I went to the school of I can,” Napoleon said. “Whenever you’re talking about anything that’s going to transform our neighborhoods, everybody wants to say we can’t do (it.) I have vision. I believe Detroit can be a bigger, tougher, stronger city than it’s ever been.”
Duggan’s 10-point plan includes proposing the creation of a Department of Neighborhoods, which would consolidate 14 agencies into a one-stop shop to deal with code enforcement, vacant lots, dangerous building demolition and federal block grant funds. The plan also includes a nuisance abatement initiative he launched as county prosecutor.
“I have a clear plan for what I want to do,” Duggan said. “We are going to get the police to show up. We’re going to demand accountability from street lighting repair crews so we can stop living in the dark. If we can do that, we can bring neighborhoods back.”
Voters will decide between the former Detroit Medical Center CEO Duggan and Wayne County sheriff Napoleon in the Nov. 5 general election.
At stake is who leads Detroit in one of the most critical periods in the city’s history. In July, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr filed the country’s largest municipal bankruptcy to restructure nearly $18 billion in long-term debt and liabilities. Orr was appointed to take over the reins in March, a year after a consent agreement between the city and state failed.
Whoever is chosen as the city’s next mayor must do so under Orr’s watch and amid uncertainty over what their role will be. Mayor Dave Bing has voiced criticism he and Orr rarely speak and his inner circle has a diminishing role in running city government.
The next mayor will also be charged with leading a city that’s in the midst of reshaping itself into becoming less bureaucratic and provides a better quality of life for residents. Detroit is plagued with poor services, from garbage collection to bus service to public safety response times. There are about 78,000 abandoned buildings that need to be torn down.
Orr’s presence in Detroit also took prominence during the debate. Each are opposed to Orr being in place.
“I believe Kevyn Orr is here illegally,” Napoleon said. “I will stand up for the citizens to get rid of Kevyn Orr. He’s demonstrated he doesn’t want to work with anyone. I have no plans to work with Kevyn Orr. My goal is to get rid of him.”
Duggan added he hopes his supporters will help him remove Orr from the position.
“As long as the emergency manager is here nobody has any rights, not the voters of Detroit and not the next mayor,” Duggan said. “You have a number of short-term consultants, making millions of dollars with no thought of who is going to run city departments in the long run. I ask the people, can you point to any area in city government where your services are better?
Napoleon went on the offensive at several points, including challenging Duggan that he lobbied for an emergency manager in Detroit. Napoleon said emails show Duggan was a candidate to be an emergency manager. He also challenged Duggan’s presence on the Educational Achievement Authority Board when he says he doesn’t want anyone to take over city schools.
“As opposed to being selected, he now wants to be elected,” Napoleon said.
Duggan responded that he lobbied against an emergency manager for Detroit.
“This is how dirty this campaign has gotten. You just make things up,” Duggan responded. “Those emails show I lobbied furiously against the appointment of an emergency manager. The truth is I was fighting the emergency manager.”
He also challenged what Napoleon has done as the Wayne County Sheriff in making crime safe in city neighborhoods.
After the debate, Napoleon released a statement saying Duggan has a plan to fix downtown, but not the neighborhoods. He added Duggan was disingenuous when he said the jail project was his vision.
“The turnaround man can figure out how to fix downtown, but when it comes to neighborhoods, he has no confidence in a transformation,” Napoleon said. This is the type of thinking that has allowed our neighborhoods to get to this point. My mayoral opponent will say and do anything in order to get elected. Detroiters need an honest mayor who will be straight with the public, not someone who will try to dupe the voters.”
Duggan was pleased with his performance in the debate.
“Supporters here watching it felt good about it but the viewers will decide for themselves,” Duggan said at his gathering at Sinbads restaurant. “I did the best that I could and all I know is my supporters thought it went really well.”
Political analyst Eric Foster said Duggan was able to deliver his points and looked comfortable, while Napoleon appeared to be nervous. Foster said he noticed Napoleon's voice and hand trembling.
That holds Napoleon back from making more substantive points and keeps him from looking as polished as candidates such as President Barack Obama or New Jersey Senator-elect Cory Booker.
“Mike was comfortable and pragmatic in laying out his attack points on Benny,” said Foster, who advised current Mayor Dave Bing and is the former campaign manager in Fred Durhal's failed mayoral campaign. “You could easily tell he was prepared well. When he was attacked he responded pragmatically.
“Benny didn't look comfortable. He looked emotional and uncomfortable. His presence hurts him from laying out clear, solid points. Benny has to lay out facts about when he reduced crime, the scout car program. You've got to be able to communicate it more effectively.”
Sunday’s debate was moderated by Carol Cain, who hosts “Michigan Matters.” Other panelists included WWJ Newsradio 950 morning anchor Tom Jordan, Michigan Chronicle senior editor Bankole Thompson and political pundit Cliff Russell. Two other debates also have been scheduled.
“This is a defining moment in Detroit,” Napoleon said. “The decision is up to you. You have to look at the future and pick a leader.”
Duggan told voters if they want change they should vote for him because he has a good turnaround track record.
“I believe we need change in the city,” Duggan said. “Never in my life I thought I’d see the kind of things I’m seeing in Detroit. We need a mayor with a proven history. I know we can rebuild a great Detroit together.”