Mike Duggan: Mayor instrumental to Detroit's turnaround

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Mike Duggan is no stranger to heading up a turnaround of the financially troubled.

The former Detroit Medical Center CEO spent close to a decade overhauling the health system and its balance sheet before making a bid to lead his hometown on the brink of largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. 

Mayor Mike Duggan stands in front of The Coe, a recently opened 12-unit apartment building in the West Village neighborhood. "Every place I've been, I went in where it was either near bankruptcy or bankruptcy and found that when you get people working together you can turn things around," Duggan said.

"Every place I've been, I went in where it was either near bankruptcy or bankruptcy and found that when you get people working together you can turn things around," Duggan said.

Duggan, a former Wayne County prosecutor, pulled off his first victory in a 2013 primary write-in campaign after being tossed from the ballot over a residency requirement. He spent most of his first term at the helm of Detroit's operations.

He oversaw the relighting of city streetlights, improved bus service and emergency response times while Detroit's emergency manager Kevyn Orr tended to the bankruptcy and finances. 

His administration has helped rebuild corridors in several key commercial districts, spearheaded a crackdown on blight and touts an ambitious, federally funded demolition effort that's torn down more than 14,200 blighted houses since May 2014. The effort, however, has faced some challenges, investigations and reviews over concerns tied to costs and bidding practices early in the program.

Duggan sailed to a second term in November by more than a 2-1 margin over his challenger, state Sen. Coleman A. Young II, with plans to revitalize more neighborhoods and get Detroiters back to work.

This spring, the city was released from state oversight, putting it in full control over government operations for the first time in four decades. Duggan is credited with helping pull together the team and stakeholders that helped secure the achievement, said Michigan Treasurer Nick Khouri.

"Mike has been at the forefront of changing the old narrative of Detroit in Michigan. Now when people think of Detroit, they think of the Detroit comeback," he said. "He's had a long career of success and in the city, he has brought all the parties together — nonprofits and foundations and the corporate world — to jointly focus on problems and provide a sense of optimism that a lot of challenges are ahead and collectively, together, we can solve the problems."

This term, Duggan said the focus has shifted from basic services to dead tree removal, sidewalk repairs and the continued fight against blight. 

The city, he said, is working to expand neighborhood infrastructure and corridor improvements and recently unveiled plans for a $250 million fund to preserve and develop affordable housing. Through its Strategic Neighborhood Fund, the city targeted three neighborhood districts for revitalization, and in May, his office announced plans to raise an additional $130 million for similar efforts in seven other Detroit districts. 

The Kresge Foundation was the first to contribute to the neighborhood fund after President and CEO Rip Rapson said Duggan won him over with the vision.

"This is something that's moved him in the most fundamental ways to really improve the life outcomes of city residents," Rapson said. "He holds it so profoundly deeply, and I've got to believe that's more than the politics."

The neighborhood effort, Duggan said, is modeled after the philanthropic partnership that brought the city's Midtown to life. While at DMC, Duggan was a key supporter of a program that incentivized workers to move into the neighborhood, said Sue Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit Inc. 

"It was a critical program for Midtown to help build density," Mosey said of the effort that was partially funded by DMC and foundations. 

Northwest Detroit resident Lisa Bednarz said she's seen many improvements in Detroit under Duggan, but her area remains plagued with blight, a rundown park and neighbors who feel left out.

"The mayor is doing great things, but we need it to come this way," said Bednarz, president of Mortensons Grand River Neighborhood Association at the city's northwestern border near Redford Township. "We're trying to put us on the map."

Duggan said it'll take decades for the city to fully rebuild from its 60-year decline, but he said he believes it's on the right path.

"My job is to lay the groundwork," he said. "It's going to take a series of mayors and a series of years to get it where we need to be."

Mike Duggan

Occupation: Mayor, City of Detroit 

Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Michigan; Juris Doctorate, University of Michigan Law School 

Family: Wife, Lori Maher; four adult children

Why honored: For his efforts to help bring the city out of bankruptcy, continue growth downtown, and long-term plan to revitalize the entire city of Detroit. 

2018 Michiganians of the Year: Cindy Garcia | Remonia Chapman | Rachael Denhollander | Solomon Kinloch Jr. | Candice Miller | John Rakolta Jr. | Bryant George | Doug Stanton | Daniel Little | Aretha Franklin