Bankole: Duggan doesn't have Detroit's trust for second bond proposal
After last year’s decisive defeat of Mayor Mike Duggan's $250 million bond proposal to end blight by 2025, he's at it again. But this time the mayor is returning the proposal to the Detroit City Council under a different name, Proposal N, which stands for neighborhoods. This time he is claiming that the plan would restructure some 8,000 vacant homes and demolish another 8,000 that cannot be saved.
Playing to the concerns and sentiments of Detroiters who have yet to experience the full benefit of the economy recovery, Duggan also claims that the city would award more than 50% of all contracts to companies in the city. In business parlance, that’s called sweetening the pot.
The problem with the mayor’s second pitch of his bond proposal is that it ignores the fundamental issues that were responsible for the sound defeat of the original measure. Lack of trust of the administration and its bad stewardship in overseeing demolition contracts in the city were some of the top concerns Detroiters raised at a special public meeting last fall.
Lest we forget — the city’s demolition program came under a federal criminal investigation during the Duggan administration. Also, reports of how Blacks were being passed over for demolition contracts became a serious issue, and spurred a spirited public equity debate over the inclusiveness of the recovery that the mayor touts before audiences of business leaders.
Just two years ago, the city’s demolition diversity crisis showed that out of a 26% minority involvement, only 16% were African Americans in a $148 million federal demolition program.
Duggan, who like President Donald Trump doesn’t like to readily and publicly admit to mistakes unless he is politically boxed in, hasn’t fully atoned to Detroiters for the blunders in the city’s demolition program and its contracting process.
It is shameful that in a majority African American city, Black demolition contractors are basically sitting at the back of the bus. When pressure was mounting on the mayor to correct the wrongs of Blacks not securing equitable participation in contracting opportunities, he quickly blamed federal rules, not his administration.
He didn’t marshal a congressional delegation to map out a strategic plan to approach the U.S. Department of Treasury on the issue. Instead, he basically threw his hands up in the air, walked away and tried to clap back at some of his critics who were faulting him for his failures to seize the moment.
I’ve spoken to a number of Black contractors who lament they are shut out of Detroit's recovery.
They can’t come out publicly to complain for fear of severe retaliation. Some of them tell me they don’t want to be on wrong side of the Duggan administration because it’s a lonely island to be on, especially when the mayor seems to have all the traditional civil rights groups in the city marching to the beat of his drum.
These unresolved issues in Duggan’s Detroit were part of the pent-up anger that led to outbursts at a public meeting last year, where some 500 residents showed up to voice their frustrations about the administration's bond proposal before members of the City Council.
Added to this crisis of inequality is this newspaper’s investigation earlier this year that revealed how Detroit homeowners were overtaxed by at least $600 million. As expected, the mayor tried to explain himself out of the problem in Trumpian fashion during his 2020 State of the City address, even though the last three years recorded in The News’ probe, 2013-16, were under his watch.
“I think we need to be aware of the fact that the city took $600 million from us. Anytime we hear new taxes, new mileage, that is against homeowners interest. The City Council should vote down the bond proposal every time the mayor presents it at the table,” said longtime Detroit advocate Agnes Hitchcock, who heads the Call ’Em Out Coalition. “As long as he keeps bringing it back we will fight it.”
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