Young faces uphill battle with Detroit voters
State Sen. Coleman Young II needs to raise more money and advocate concrete solutions in his bid to upset Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, political experts said Wednesday after a disappointing primary bid that generated far fewer political contributions and votes than his legendary father.
Duggan, the city’s first white mayor in 40 years, received 69 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary to 27 percent for Young, son of Coleman A. Young, the city’s first black mayor, according to unofficial results. Duggan also secured the vast majority of the prominent endorsements and raised more than $1.6 million compared with Young’s $22,000.
Young’s campaign manager has argued that, despite the paltry fundraising total, the senator benefits from a “$2 million name.”
But name recognition was not a slam dunk for Young in Precinct 392, where residents who voted at the Coleman A. Young Elementary School backed Duggan 48 percent to 46 percent. The 59-year-old mayor also came out on top in three of five precincts housed in the Andrew Butzel Recreation Center where Young cast his vote.
Political experts are divided on whether Young’s primary performance was strong enough to give him a shot this fall, but agreed the 34-year-old senator needs to step up efforts to get out his message.
“He’s going to have to stick to the issues, show that he’s a leader and present solutions to problems that he says exist,” said Mario Morrow, president and CEO of the Detroit-based political and media relations firm Mario Morrow and Associates, adding “race baiting, conspiracy theories and blaming the opposition” won’t work.
Young “didn’t get his constituents out,” Morrow said. “Does he have support or was this support anti-Mike Duggan, which is normally the case in a primary election if you receive less than 30 percent of the vote?”
But political consultant Greg Bowens said Young’s 27 percent was a “good outcome” against Duggan’s “dedicated political machine.” The “sprint” begins now, Bowen said, because voters start paying more attention through Labor Day and to the Nov. 7 election.
Young already has proved he can emerge from the shadows of his father’s legacy, Bowens said.
“He’s done that in the state Legislature and by stepping up and taking on a very visibly powerful mayor,” he said. “He’s going to have to be able to articulate a bigger vision and put together an organization of volunteers who are just as courageous as he is in terms of trying to trying to topple the team.”
The last time a second-place primary candidate came back to defeat the primary victor in the general election was in 2005. Challenger Freman Hendrix won the 2005 primary by 11 percentage points, but then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick defeated Hendrix 53 percent to 47 percent in the general after getting the endorsement of third-place primary challenger Sharon McPhail and taking his campaign “to the street.”
Young had not heard Wednesday that Duggan received more votes than him at Young’s voting location. “When we’re ready to talk about that, we’ll let you know,” he said.
But Young said he was encouraged that “a lot of people are listening to our message” and he plans to redouble his efforts.
Campaign manager Adolph Mongo has said the campaign is confident it can generate more votes in November since primary participation by registered voters was 13.9 percent, down from 17 percent in 2013. About 63,000 Detroiters voted in Tuesday’s primary, but the number will grow in the general election, where almost 136,000 voters cast ballots in 2013, according to records.
“The bottom line is we feel really good about where we’re at right now. To gain traction we just have to work harder, put our nose to the ground and get our message out in as many places as we can,” Young said. “All who supported me, I thank God for them. For all those who didn’t, I will work hard to convince you to come join the Young team in November.”
The second-term senator said he remains focused on putting people back to work, rebuilding infrastructure, tearing down abandoned buildings and reducing poverty.
He also is pressing for a debate with Duggan, whom he’s criticized for neglecting neighborhoods and a federal criminal probe into the city’s demolition program. In 2013, Duggan and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon debated three times.
“We need to have a debate that way we can really see whose ideas are best for the city,” Young said. “I’ll debate him in a closet, in the middle of Woodward, wherever he may want to do it.”
Duggan on Wednesday said his campaign will stay on its message of building one Detroit. He said he is not going to engage in mudslinging.
“There’s no doubt. They got the old play book of hate and divisiveness as a message,” the mayor said. “It didn’t work very well for them in the primary. I doubt it will work any better in the general, but we’re not going to engage in it.”
Duggan said he’s working to extend neighborhood recovery to all areas of Detroit and improve opportunities and workforce training.
“Conversations used to be streetlights aren’t coming on, the ambulance doesn’t show up, the buses don’t run,” he said. “Now, the conversations are far more complicated, about ‘how do we have opportunity and when my son graduates from school is he going to have to move out of Detroit to get a job?’ This is the next phase and it’s ultimately what I’ll be judged on the next four years.”
Duggan said an announcement is forthcoming on a new round of neighborhoods to be rejuvenated under Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund, a philanthropic partnership that aims to transform vacant homes, empty lots and storefronts into walkable communities.
Young’s challenge is that Duggan has grabbed the support of much of his father’s power base, getting endorsements that include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and AFL-CIO to clergy and 24 former cabinet members and appointees of Young’s father.
Even the influential political arm of the Shrine of the Black Madonna known as the Black Slate, which formed in 1973 and helped get Coleman A. Young elected that year, announced its support for Duggan. It sent members to the polls Tuesday to rally on his behalf.
The Rev. Baye Landy, the Black Slate’s regional coordinator, said last week he took notice of Duggan’s ability to work well with black leaders in the city and region and that he’s “getting things done right now.”
Landy said the group “wrestled” with its endorsement decision after speaking with Young, whom it has endorsed for the state House and state Senate.
“We just can’t, at this time ... in Detroit’s history, start over again,” he said. “We want to keep the momentum going.”
The Young campaign had several supporters crash the announcement, criticizing the Slate for its support of Duggan and confronting the mayor over retiree pension cuts that were part of Detroit’s bankruptcy settlement.
Voters also are judging the 34-year-old Young on his own merits and not those of his father, who served five terms and easily beat back challenges from established politicians including U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. and then-City Council President Erma Henderson.
“I think he needs more experience and a little more knowledge,” said Richard Carson, a 50-year-old northwest Detroit black resident who voted for Duggan. “I’m sure Charles Manson had a father, too, and I’m not going to compare them.”
But Sandra Epps believes Young is the best fit for mayor and has a “powerhouse” team that will help him lead Detroit in the right direction.
“I am for an individual who is for everyone in the city,” said Epps, a lifelong Detroiter who lives in the LaSalle Gardens neighborhood. “Not just big businesses.”
Staff Writer Nicquel Terry contributed.