Duggan touts a recovery critics say is too uneven
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan speaks of his administrations hard work and his bid for a second term as mayor.
Detroit — As he prepared to unveil a rejuvenated community park Oct. 21 in a west-side neighborhood, Mayor Mike Duggan reflected on how the area has transformed from when he campaigned there four years ago.
“I did one of my 250 house parties over there in 2013,” Duggan told The Detroit News, motioning across the street while seated in the park now equipped with new walking trails, benches and shrubbery. “This entire street was pitch-black. I couldn’t even see the address of where I was going. Now the street here is lit up.”
With five days to go until Tuesday’s election, Duggan has rolled out initiatives in recent weeks that aim to revitalize city neighborhoods. It’s an area his opponent, state Sen. Coleman A. Young II, has criticized by arguing that Detroit is a tale of two cities: “It’s the best of times for those who are privileged and the worst of times for everybody else.”
Four years ago, the former Detroit Medical Center CEO ran as a turnaround expert who could fix the city’s problems after it filed for the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy in history. Now Duggan says he deserves to be rehired by the voters to continue the city’s recovery after emerging from insolvency at the end of 2014.
LaSalle Park, which Duggan visited on the weekend, is among the 40 neighborhood parks getting a revamp in areas of the city where Duggan says residents have felt forgotten.
Norris Collier, 86, a retired machine repairman for Ford Motor Co., has lived in the neighborhood since the early 1950s and is enjoying its comeback.
“That’s my mayor man right there,” Collier said after shaking Duggan’s hand. “He’s always present when we need him. He shows up right on time.”
The first-term mayor prevailed in the August primary with 68 percent of the vote to Young’s 27 percent. He also has secured prominent endorsements from city labor unions, clergy and business groups, and raised about $2.2 million to Young’s $22,000.
The pair sparred Oct. 25 during their first and only debate over the city’s violent crime rate, neighborhoods and claims of corruption in the city’s federally funded demolition program.
Political consultant Greg Bowens said with the exception of the debate, the race has been a “pretty quiet affair.”
“Duggan has done everything as a candidate to demonstrate that he has strength and he’s unbeatable,” Bowens said. “... But Coleman Young does have a strong voice for people who are not doing well. I wouldn’t underestimate the way that his voice resonates with people when they hear it.”
Stopping the flight
The mayor has made a point of being judged in his first term on Detroit’s population growth.
The most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures released in May show the drop has slowed to its lowest pace in decades. But it remains short of Duggan’s expectation the city would be growing by the end of his first term.
Young has argued that since Duggan can’t get the city’s population loss under control as he promised, “he shouldn’t be mayor.” The senator reiterated that position during last week’s debate.
“My opponent Mike Duggan said ... the standard should be whether or not he can keep the population from going down and that if he cannot increase the population that he would not be re-elected,” Young said during his closing statement.
When Duggan took office Jan. 1, 2014, Detroit’s population was around 680,000. As of last summer, the city’s population was estimated at 672,795.
Duggan said he remains optimistic that when the next figures are out in the spring, they’ll show in 2017 the city is growing. Detroit has been losing people since the city hit a peak population of 1.85 million in 1950.
“I think this will be the year where the historic 60-year decline is proven to be reversed,” he told The News.
In his re-election bid, Duggan is touting the city’s 65,000 new LED streetlights, buses that mostly run on time and improved public safety response.
He said he’s now moving on to his vision for the next four years.
The mayor is promoting a new 10-point plan for the city’s neighborhoods, which includes some projects already underway. The list calls for doubling the rate of commercial demolition, tougher rental property inspections, a crackdown on illegal dumping and “Board up Brigades” to secure blighted vacant homes.
“Every day something new comes up. But this is what happens when you are making progress, people expect more,” Duggan said. “That’s what we signed up for, and in the next four years we’re going to deliver.”
In his first bid, Duggan ran on the theme “every neighborhood has a future.”
So far, he’s made good on establishing a Department of Neighborhoods with offices in each of the seven council districts.
He’s also gone after abandoned homes and drug houses with a nuisance abatement lawsuit program and is making progress on rebuilding business districts in some neighborhoods.
Since spring 2014, the city has taken down nearly 13,000 blighted homes under a federally funded demolition program that’s served as a centerpiece of Duggan’s administration. But it remains the focus of a federal criminal investigation because of concerns over soaring costs and bidding practices that came to light in 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.
Duggan’s administration has said there was nothing unusual or improper about the 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.
In June, The Detroit News reported that a federal grand jury is focused on whether federal money was misappropriated while Detroit spent nearly $200 million to tear down homes after the city’s bankruptcy.
As many as 30 contractors and city agencies are believed to have been subpoenaed to testify or provide documents, according sources familiar with the investigation and a copy of subpoenas. No charges have been filed.
“I’ve said all along if anybody did something wrong they should be charged,” Duggan said. “If they didn’t they should be cleared.”
Feeling left behind
Lifelong west-side resident Patrina Pulcher said she remains disappointed with the level of abandonment in her area and wants to see revitalization that spans further than the city’s core.
“All the changes they need to do, I think they need to do in the communities instead of building up the downtown,” said Pulcher, a 46-year-old janitorial worker.
Young’s message, she said, “really stands out” and Detroit should give him a chance.
Duggan doesn’t deny residents in some areas feel left behind, but said the city’s downfall came over decades and its rise will take time.
Duggan said 200,000 people left the city in the decade before he was elected, leaving behind 40,000 abandoned houses.
“Every neighborhood isn’t going to come back all at once, but ... we’re going to keep working until we reach everybody,” he said.
Among his efforts, Duggan pointed to the Strategic Neighborhood Fund, a philanthropic partnership that just got another $60 million infusion to build walkable communities.
He also noted City Council’s approval of a $125 million bond program to revitalize neighborhood commercial corridors.
Young has knocked Duggan for his recent string of neighborhood and road investment projects.
“Now all the sudden there’s a $100 million plan for neighborhoods and roads,” Young said. “Where was that three years ago?”
Duggan said Young’s comments are “what you’d expect somebody who is running against you to say.”
‘Work to do’
Young has attacked the mayor, among other things, on the city’s crime rate.
Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that violent crime surged 15.7 percent last year, an increase that ranked the city as the nation’s most violent big city.
The Police Department has rebutted the statistics with its own figures that show a 5 percent dip in violent crime from 2015 to 2016 when corrected for errors inputted by officers.
Duggan said under Chief James Craig the department has made strides, but admits everybody knows “this city is not as safe as it should be.”
The mayor said response times have been cut in half, more police precincts are open and officers formerly behind desks are in police cars responding to 911 calls.
“We’re heading in the right direction. We’ve just got a lot of work to do,” he said.
Tracy Peters, an attorney in East English Village, said she’s seen Young advocate in Lansing for Detroit parents and students and that he’ll be getting her vote.
“Coleman Young when he says ‘our Detroit’ I feel like he’s a citizen with me,” said Peters, who resides in Young’s senate district.
But west side resident Daedra McGhee called Young divisive. Duggan, she said, is true to his word.
“If he says he’s going to do something, he gets it done,” McGhee said. “He’s transparent and honest.”
Residence: Manoogian Mansion
Political experience: Assistant corporation counsel of Wayne County, 1986-87; deputy Wayne County executive, 1987-2000, Wayne County prosecutor, 2001-03; Detroit mayor, 2014-present
Other experience: CEO of Detroit Medical Center, 2004-12