The mayoral debate last Wednesday left me wondering if Mayor Mike Duggan has ever lost a night’s sleep over the fate of Detroit’s children who go to bed hungry each day in the city’s debilitating neighborhoods.
If the mayor has lost sleep over the conditions of people who feel marginalized, he did not convey that during the debate.
Instead, his posture reminded me of President Donald Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico where he seemed more concerned about dollars than showing empathy for those living in desolate conditions because of the storms.
The mayor was throwing out numbers that were largely relevant to Midtown and downtown Detroit and far removed from the grim life in the neighborhoods. He tried to make the connection that the development of the business district will eventually spill over to the neighborhoods.
His entire presentation during the debate leads one to question if the mayor visits with poor families in this city who are getting evicted from their homes and others whose lights are cut off during winter?
If he does, he didn’t give Detroiters that impression during the debate.
While his opponent, state Sen. Coleman Young II, tried to make a political and a moral case, Duggan seemed dismissive and instead cited the projects he has embarked on since his election.
I give it to the mayor that he did mention some job-creating projects specifically designated for some neighborhoods — including ones that have already been rolled out. He rightly raised important questions about his opponent’s record as a legislator and standing to become mayor.
But what Duggan failed to do was to talk to that majority of Detroiters who feel left behind. He failed to show he understands their plight and that he is finally ready to do something about it.
I was waiting for that moment. I was waiting for a Paul-like Damascus experience where the mayor could have made decisive and bold statements about a new direction for the next four years. But that moment never came.
The mayor could have even shared with us how he truly felt after a series of reports — such at those released recently by Detroit Future City and the Urban Institute — that clearly showed the city is seriously lagging in being inclusive in its comeback.
Detroiters — especially those in the trenches — expected him to identify with their plight by demonstrating empathy.
Maybe his strategists advised him not to highlight his weaknesses for fear of strengthening the hand of his opponent. But following that script made Duggan come off as having a serious empathy deficit.
Every major faith advocates empathy, compassion and charity.
Every major faith enjoins us to look out for our neighbors in need. We expect those in power to show examples of good neighborliness.
Pope Francis captured it best when he said, “We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.”
I was searching for the empathy candidate in Mike Duggan. That would have required he put himself in the shoes of those who are not cheerleading the comeback of the city because their experiences tell them otherwise.
But as leader of the city there is no greater value you can demonstrate to show understanding of the suffering many are going through than empathy. Moreso, showing empathy becomes an inescapable obligation when you preside over America’s largest poverty city.
Empathy, too, is a hallmark of leadership.
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