After a primary election that lacked political fanfare, the two leading mayoral candidates — incumbent Mike Duggan and Coleman Young II — owe it to Detroiters to present a more substantive campaign.
Each needs to explain how he plans to make Detroit a place where people feel truly empowered, not marginalized, where opportunities galore exist and are not scarce, and officials will willingly push inclusion as a top agenda item, not reluctantly do so because they’ve been shamed into doing it.
They owe it to their constituents to go beyond soundbites, slogans and catch phrases and instead focus on the bread and butter issues that will ultimately have the greatest impact on how the city recovers. The candidates need to clearly define where they stand on such crucial issues as unemployment, crime, population loss, blight and foreclosures — all of which are part of neighborhood revitalization — and offer their solutions to these issues.
This is more so because Detroit has been repeatedly billed as a city that is on a comeback. That is the story officials have sold to the nation and the world in interviews with national publications. That has been the dominant and incessant refrain from city hall and loudly echoed in business forums. In fact, at the last Mackinac Policy Conference, it was the overriding theme of Duggan’s presentation on the city’s racial history.
The number of investors and companies in the last four years who have either moved to Detroit or expressed significant interest in the city further underscores how outside interests are convinced that things are on the right track. It is a vote of confidence on the economic bubble we see in downtown and Midtown.
But the question of the comeback of a city that was once on the brink of decadence — after going through an excruciating bankruptcy proceeding — has an important and an ironic twist to it.
That is for many in Detroit, this comeback theme largely depends on what side of town you live in and the conditions of your neighborhood; the kind of employment you have and how engaged you are in the recovery efforts. And if you own a small business in the city, your definition of a Detroit that is positively moving forward, may also be predicated on whether your business is participating in the economic buoyancy that is the heartbeat of downtown.
Duggan and Young must offer detailed and realistic plans on how to bridge the widening gap between communities that are doing very well and those in need of urgent attention to address their desolate conditions.
There are many questions that need to be asked of the candidates during this campaign. Among them: Who is Detroit rising back for?
That particular question was put to me during a dinner recently with two journalists from two major newspapers in Europe. The journalists are planning to put an international light on the city’s recovery amidst its unacceptable level of poverty.
Judith Perrignon from Le Monde, the noted French daily, and Ine Roox from De Standard, the largest daily in Brussels, Belgium, home of the European Union, came to Detroit to write about the city through the lens of its current challenges and opportunities.
Because Detroit’s comeback has garnered so much global attention, the two wanted to know how do we reconcile the city’s newfound optimism steeped in the economic dispensation of downtown, and the heartbreaking realities of many Detroiters, whose lives are clustered in pockets of neighborhoods that only remind us of the worst days.
That question is at the heart of the recovery and is one we need to hear Duggan and Young answer directly, because it is imperative that their plans include inclusive development initiatives as well as time lines for achieving such.
Both candidates will do better giving substance and innovative ideas that would guarantee progress instead of issuing empty rhetoric that would do nothing in dealing with the problems facing Detroit.
It is true that Detroit’s problems did not begin in the last year or since Duggan was elected mayor four years ago. However Duggan is in the driver’s seat now. He cannot avoid the pressing issues being laid at his feet and he should defend his record. There are developments and initiatives he can point to as part of the recovery. At the same time there are missteps that need to be flushed out.
Young II, if he wants to unseat Duggan, must offer a bold and concrete plan and convince the electorate that he is ready to take the helm of the city. He carries a weighty name but he will need to back that name with substance. In this election that means offering an inclusive vision that is beyond the romanticism of the past.
This election should not be about the style of Duggan or Young II. It should be about substance only. Then let voters decide.
The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.