Duggan, Young feisty in Detroit mayoral debate

Jonathan Oosting, and Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — Challenger Coleman Young II accused Mayor Mike Duggan of neglecting the poor and attracting corruption in a Wednesday debate in which the incumbent countered by touting his accomplishments and accusing the state senator of “making things up.”

The lone general election debate between the 58-year-old Duggan and 35-year-old Young II began with fireworks.

Young, a loquacious state senator known for aggressive oratory, attacked Duggan from the start and rarely let up. He highlighted ongoing struggles with crime and poverty in Detroit neighborhoods and argued Duggan has focused too much on downtown.

“It’s the best of times for everybody’s who’s privileged and worst of times for everybody else,” Young said, telling viewers its “time to take back the motherland for the people.”

Finley: Young’s ‘motherland’ comment spoils performance

Duggan painted a picture of a city on the rise and promised continued progress. During his tenure, he said, the city has turned on 65,000 lights, knocked down 13,000 vacant homes and cut police and fire response times in half.

The mayor accused Young “of trumping up charges” against him and bemoaned “a lot of attacks from a candidate without a single plan of his own.”

The hour-long forum was broadcast live on WDIV-TV (Channel 4) and was co-hosted by The Detroit News, and WTVS-TV.

Young highlighted a decades-old drama in Wayne County and an ongoing investigation of Detroit’s demolition program by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

No charges have been filed against any individuals, but the probe has focused on concerns over rising Detroit demolition costs and bidding in fall 2015.

At issue is a controversial 2014 set-price pilot program for bulk demolitions that emerged after city officials met with a group of contractors. Three of the four contractors participating in negotiations were the sole bidders and were awarded the work.

The Duggan administration has said there was nothing unusual or improper about the set-price contract initiative, which was designed to attract firms able to handle big bundles of properties as the city moved with urgency to meet a deadline to draw down federal dollars earmarked for the program.

In June, The Detroit News reported a federal grand jury is focused on whether federal money was misappropriated while Detroit spent nearly $200 million to tear down homes after its bankruptcy.

Tensions flare in studio before debate

The target of the investigation has been unclear. Duggan has said that nobody from his office had been questioned or subpoenaed. The mayor has said he hoped for a speedy conclusion and that if people did wrong, they should be held accountable.

“I’m unbought and unbossed,” Young said, highlighting the demolition probe and other issues. “My back isn’t bent and it’s not meant to be ridden."

Duggan defended his record, saying “integrity is doing what you say you're going to do, and the biggest thing we need in this city is to spread opportunity.”

Both candidates expressed hope for improving Detroit schools but traded jabs over who should bear the blame for past struggles.

“I can’t figure out what job he’s running for, because it sounds like as state senator, he’s failed to get funding for the programs he’s talking about,” Duggan said.

Confrontation on crime

Asked about the city’s ongoing struggles with violent crime, Duggan said he’s worked to open mini police stations to put officers on the street and said his project “Green Light” has helped cut violent crime in “200 zones of danger that are now zones of safety.”

But Young noted FBI figures suggesting Detroit was once again the most violent big city in America in 2016, data Police Chief James Craig has disputed.

“Whatever (Duggan) is talking about doing, it’s not working. Mothers are burying their children,” he said.

The FBI data showed violent crime — murder, rape, assault and robbery — in Detroit surged 15.7 percent last year.

But Craig said the FBI numbers were wrong, blaming an antiquated software system called CRISNET, which he said caused some crimes to be double reported. The system was replaced in December and its numbers show a 5 percent reduction in violent crime last year, the chief has said.

On economic development, Young called for “better banking ordinances” for neighborhoods in an effort to increase investment. He also claimed that Amazon is not choosing Detroit for its second headquarters, even though the Seattle firm just last week received bids from more than 200 communities including Motown.

But the senator’s plan earned scorn from Duggan, who has overseen a comeback of the city’s core afterthe city emerged from bankruptcy at the end of 2014. He again accused Young of doing little as a state lawmaker.

“In 10 years, the senator hasn’t done a darn thing to help develop business in the city,” Duggan said.

After the debate, the mayor said “we’ll see” when asked about Young’s comment about Amazon. He praised Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert and his team for their work on the Detroit-Windsor bid.

Duggan noted his efforts to reduce auto insurance premiums by changing state laws. He’s joined with Republican state House Speaker Tom Leonard on a plan that would allow motorists to choose lower-cost policies with reduced personal injury protection.

The controversial legislation has not yet advanced but could see a vote in the House Insurance Committee this week.

“I’m tired of our legislators in Lansing having excuses why they can’t get anything done,” Duggan said.

Young blamed high auto insurance costs on “racist red lining” and said he would sue insurance companies to prevent them from using location factors to determine premium rates.

As mayor, Young said he would direct his chief of police to stop asking drivers for their proof of insurance, calling it a “tax on people for a tax they cannot afford.”

Duggan countered by noting that insurers won when they were sued before on red-lining charges. He said  Young has not followed through on earlier campaign promises to address auto insurance costs in the state Legislature, telling the senator he’s “delivered squat” for Detroit drivers.

Racial issues raised

Young, vying to unseat Detroit’s first white mayor since his father became the city’s first black mayor in 1974, said residents need a leader “who can talk to people honestly about race and what’s going on” in a city that remains predominately African-American.

He called for a $15-an-hour minimum wage to address economic inequities and argued for more use of community benefits agreements to ensure Detroiters get jobs from new developments.

Duggan said he agreed with a $15 wage but noted the state Legislature passed a law banning municipalities from exceeding the state limit, currently $8.90 an hour. He noted new bus routes and work training programs.

“We do have a lot of haves and have-nots, but the responsibility of leadership is to make sure where you start out is not where you end up,” Duggan said.

Four years ago, Duggan debated Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon three times. But the mayor said after the forum he is not interested in another debate this year.

“You just look at the behavior,” Duggan said. “This is all just a bunch of nasty personal attacks and made-up stuff, and I don’t see the point of doing it more than once.”

Young, who previously stated he wanted several debates with the mayor, said another debate is necessary.

“I’d love to do this again,” Young said. “We had one debate and we have all these issues going on.”

Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed