Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s announcement Feb. 4 of his re-election campaign was political pageantry at best and a show of force playing to the public gallery. Like the very skillful politician he is, Duggan rolled out his former chief opponent Benny Napoleon, the Wayne County sheriff, to make the mayor’s case from the podium at the Samaritan Center on the city’s east side.
It was a masterful and an image-making presentation watching Napoleon and other prominent civic leaders beat the drum for Duggan before handing the microphone to the man of the hour to explain why he wants a second term.
If that event was meant to signal a guaranteed, safe and easy road to re-election, the results of the first poll conducted about the race are telling a different story. This is not going to be a cakewalk — plain and simple.
A survey of 300 Detroit voters has Duggan at 46 percent and his likely major opponent — state Sen. Coleman Young II — at 21 percent.
The poll — conducted March 7-9 by Lansing-based Denno Research, a political consulting firm, and commissioned by MIRS, a political news service in Lansing — offers the first sampling of how Detroit voters are feeling about the election.
The poll, released March 16, also asked about the race factor and whether having a black mayor was important to voters. Only 24 percent agreed and 76 percent disagreed.
(The telephone survey, including 25 percent cellphone users, has a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.)
What is noteworthy about the poll is the fact that the mayor did not get above 50 percent, which may indicate there are some reservations about his stewardship of the city.
It also suggests that any other candidate with a level of fundraising prowess and campaign organizational skills can make a serious play for the mayorship.
Also, we should bear in mind that this poll was conducted weeks after Duggan delivered an upbeat State of the City speech on Feb. 21.
The address, which among other things outlined his plans to tackle affordable housing, should naturally have helped increase his numbers in the poll.
“Clearly Mayor Duggan is the favorite going into this race but isn’t going to be a slam dunk. These numbers show that Sen. Young starts with a bit of base support, which makes him Duggan’s most serious challenger at this point,” said Kyle Melinn of MIRS.
Sharon Banks, communications director for Duggan’s campaign, on Thursday said the campaign isn’t taking anything for granted.
They are not dismissing the poll either. They plan to continue to get the message out there to Detroiters and show what the city has achieved in the last four years under Duggan and why he deserves to be sent back to city hall.
On the other hand, Young’s campaign chairman, Adolph Mongo, said the mayor should be worried about the poll and that it is good news for a candidate like Young trying to follow in his father’s footsteps.
For Mongo, the race is going to boil down to who comes out to vote. Young plans to take his message to the streets and to senior citizen buildings, he said.
Mongo said he has no qualms if race becomes a central focus of the campaign, because he believes blacks are being left out of Detroit’s comeback. He said it will be foolish to not think that race can’t be an issue in deciding the city’s future in a year that marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 riots and civil disturbances.
Banks says Young needs to show voters he has a plan to improve their lives because they have not seen one yet from him.
Young has an uphill battle to unseat a well-funded incumbent like Duggan. The poll shows that he would need more than name recognition to win. But in politics anything is possible, as the 2016 presidential race showed.
Duggan has a tough road.
“But while many say Detroit is on the comeback, Detroit voters might not be ready to give all the credit to Mayor Duggan, either,” said Dennis Denno, the president of Denno Research.
The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.