Neighborhoods emerge as Detroit mayoral issue
Detroit — The age-old debate over how much downtown prosperity can be spread to other Detroit neighborhoods is emerging as an early issue in Mayor Mike Duggan’s battle for a second term.
The first-term mayor emphasized his improvement of city services in Tuesday’s State of the City speech, but acknowledged that “if we’re going to fulfill a vision of building a Detroit that includes everybody, then we’ve got to do a whole lot more.”
State Sen. Coleman A Young II, D-Detroit, is set Friday to formally announce his mayoral candidacy and challenge to Duggan in the Aug. 8 primary. Young’s early platform is focused on the argument that African-Americans in most neighborhoods are being left out of the majority-black city’s revitalization.
“This city is 80 percent African-American, and the Duggan administration has left us out of the rebirth of Detroit,” Young’s campaign spokesman Adolph Mongo said in a statement advancing the campaign announcement. “While Duggan is focusing all his energy on downtown, Midtown and Corktown, the people in the neighborhoods have been held hostage by crime, lack of police response and chronic unemployment.”
“It’s time for a change,” Mongo said. “And Sen. Young can do a better job.”
The mayor attempted to negate the argument in his Tuesday night address as he vowed to create an inclusive city with affordable housing, jobs and revival reaching all of its residents.
“This city is big enough that there’s room for everybody,” said Duggan, who became Detroit’s first white mayor in 40 years when he was elected in 2013.
The mayor touted Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund, a $30 million philanthropic partnership aimed at transforming vacant homes, empty lots and storefronts into walkable communities. He is also striving for a “mix of incomes in every corner of the neighborhoods” being delivered in part through affordable housing units in numerous projects.
Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the administration is staying focused on its progress and uniting people.
“What you can see is progress happening across the city,” she said, noting revitalization plans for 40 neighborhood parks, job and housing opportunities.
“We still have a ways to go ... but you certainly can’t deny the progress that’s being made throughout this city,” Wiley said. “We’re really just focused on expanding opportunities for everyone in all of our neighborhoods, and our track record really does speak for itself.”
Political consultant Greg Bowens said the theme being used by Young’s campaign is an old one — raised during past campaigns for Kwame Kilpatrick and Dennis Archer — but hasn’t proved decisive.
“There’s always talk about downtown versus neighborhoods. It’s not a big surprise there that this kind of language is shaping up this year, too,” said Bowens, a former spokesman for Archer.
Young, the son of Detroit’s first African-American mayor, made an unsuccessful bid for the post in 2009.
“It’s a message that you know the people are used to hearing, and it really doesn’t cost you anything to make that argument,” Bowens said.
On Tuesday, the Duggan administration announced its latest job training initiative “Detroit at Work,” which hopes to better connect the city’s job seekers with employers. The web portal follows a recent partnership with unions to increase Detroit members and the latest roll-out of Duggan’s summer youth employment program.
Detroit’s unemployment rate has gone from 18 percent three years ago to 9.8 percent today. But Duggan said he’s under no illusion that it’ll be enough.
“It sounds like a great accomplishment except at 9.8 percent, it still remains the highest unemployment rate of any city in the state of Michigan,” he said Tuesday night. “We have a whole lot more work left to do.”
Residents differ on the progress in some neighborhoods.
Loretta Yancey, a nearly 40-year resident of the city’s Chandler Park Neighborhood, said revitalization has been selective.
“The neighborhoods being rejuvenated are neighborhoods that have been chosen to thrive as opposed to neighborhoods chose not to thrive,” said Yancey, adding some have been cast out and others are struggling with poverty and joblessness.
While she didn’t indicate who might get her vote, Yancey said there’s truth in Young’s argument.
“The things that Coleman is talking about is most certainly not a surprise and it shouldn’t be,” she said. “He’s not lying about it.”
But Gwen Lewis, president of the Russell Woods Sullivan Area Association, said she and her west-side neighbors are seeing benefits.
Lewis, a 20-year resident of the city’s oldest neighborhood, said just this month the city engaged the community to discuss plans for its future.
“Mike Duggan opened his doors to us. He came to the table himself and talked about Russell Woods and the future of Russell Woods,” she said. “People elect politicians and then anticipate the politician is going to take care of all their needs. Well, there’s 700,000 people in Detroit with all their needs.”