Coleman Young II declares bid for Detroit mayor

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit’s mayoral race heated up Friday when State Sen. Coleman A. Young II announced his candidacy for the position held for two decades by his legendary father.

Young — the only son of the city’s first African-American mayor, the late Mayor Coleman Alexander Young — said he is running to bring jobs to a city where almost half are living in poverty, adding that his father was “turning over in his grave.”

“I want to put the citizens of Detroit back to work, and when I say that I mean the neighborhoods,” Young said. “Right now, 40 percent of the city of Detroit is living in poverty. That is not acceptable. I know a lot of people are talking about turning the lights on, but what’s the purpose of turning the lights on outside your house if people can’t turn the lights on inside the house?”

Standing underneath a 5-feet-tall photo of his father in northwest Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion neighborhood with a few dozen supporters, Young added that there is no purpose to a regional water authority if people don’t have water.

Michigan State Senator Coleman Young, II sits under a five-foot tall poster of his father, former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, as he announces his candidacy for Detroit mayor during a press conference in Detroit Friday.

“I am talking to families in the city of Detroit who are literally terrified about telling people they don’t have water in their house because they are afraid that (the Department of Human Services) is going to take their kids,” he said. “That is not an environment that people should be living in.”

Young is the most high-profile candidate to challenge Mayor Mike Duggan, who announced Feb. 4 that he would seek a second four-year term. There are still two months until the April 25 filing deadline, but about 25 candidates have picked up petitions for the Aug. 8 primary race, according to a list distributed this week by the city’s Elections Department. No one has filed for the office.

Duggan pre-emptively tried to undercut Young’s announcement with an early Friday endorsement by four Detroit police and firefighters unions.

But during a press conference,Young criticized Duggan by calling it “a joke” that the mayor is finally talking about affordable housing in his Tuesday State of the City speech after three years in office.

“We need change,” Young said. “What is the purpose of having power if you don’t serve the powerless? What is the purpose of creating jobs downtown if you don’t provide jobs for the residents who need it? What is is the purpose of having a water authority, if you cannot provide to those who are thirsty and (people) have their water shut off?”

“There is no reason why in a town where billions of dollars are being invested, we have citizens who are poor, hungry and begging. ... That is not right.”

Campaign challenges

The 34-year-old politician has “great name recognition,” said Steve Hood, a Detroit political consultant and a radio host at 910AM Radio Superstation. “He would definitely make it through the primary for a general election face-off with Mayor Duggan.”

But Duggan, 58, remains the prohibitive favorite to prevail in November, Hood said.

Young may be challenged to “prove that he actually has some skills to run the city. He has to prove that he’s level-headed,” which may be difficult given his penchant for passionate rants on the Senate floor, he said.

“Duggan, on the other hand, has to prove that, No. 1, he cares about the neighborhoods,” Hood said, “because it’s a white guy facing a black guy in an 85 percent black city. And I think he can prevail.”

Young was born in Detroit and lived here until he was 6 years old. He then moved to California with his mother, former Detroit Department of Public Works official Annivory Calvert, and was renamed Joel Loving amid death threats against his father, Young said.

His mother sued then-Mayor Young in 1989 and paternity was established through blood tests after the mayor initially contested the allegation.

Michigan courts renamed Loving as Coleman A. Young Jr. to match his baptismal records. The elder Young died in 1997.

Young then returned to Detroit, where he began an internship at City Hall in 2005 and also attended Wayne State University.

This is Young’s second attempt to run for the mayor’s position following an unsuccessful bid in 2009, but he has been in public service for 10 years. He is currently in his second term in the Michigan Senate. Previously, he served in the Michigan House of Representatives for two terms.

During his tenure, he sponsored six bills that were signed into law, including legislation that gave paid maternity leave to pregnant police officers and firefighters, Young said. Another Young-sponsored law helped decrease blight by requiring that residents be notified before being ticketed for ill maintained property.

He has never been married, has no children and lives in Detroit’s English Village neighborhood. Addressing a question from the audience about having a name that is the same as one of Detroit’s most well-known mayors, Young said he is proud of his father. “This is a labor of love.”

Duggan gains endorsement

Young’s announcement came after a coalition of four police and firefighter unions earlier Friday endorsed Duggan as “solution-oriented.” The coalition includes the Detroit Fire Fighters Association as well as the Detroit Police Officers Association, the Detroit Police Command Officers Association and the Detroit Police Lieutenants and Sergeants Association — representing more than 3,000 active and retired public safety workers.

Duggan attended the endorsement, which he said was the first time all four unions rallied behind the same candidate.

“The days where the mayor is fighting with the unions, fighting with the (City) Council, fighting with Lansing as the city continued to decline, those days are over,” he said.

Even though there are still two months to go until the filing deadline, the public safety union leaders said they didn’t think their endorsement was premature.

“Before this even starts, it’s already over,” said Mike Nevin, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association. “We support Mayor Duggan, who supports the city of Detroit.”

Firefighter and police officials cited the provision of new police cars and fire trucks, better communication with city officials and other improvements with fueling their endorsement of Duggan.

But Adolph Mongo, Young’s consultant, said there are plenty of Detroit police and fire officials with whom he and Young have talked and support Young.

“A fix is always in when you are making backroom deals,” Mongo said. “We don’t know what Duggan promised them. Most of their rank-and-file don’t even live in Detroit. ... But as far as them delivering, we’ll see.”

Detroiters were mixed on Young’s announcement.

Some, like Ruby Riley, 66, said Young speaks for all of Detroit.

“Coleman Young is a Detroiter,” said Riley, who lives on the northeast side of Detroit. “I feel he is for Detroiters. He knows what we need.”

But others were skeptical about his candidacy.

“I don’t think he’s the best choice,” said Henry Conerway, 65. “ I don’t think he can improve on the work Mr. Duggan has done. I don’t think he would be the one to challenge Mr. Duggan.”

Detroit News staff writers Holly Fournier and Michael Gerstein contributed.