Bankole: Make Mayor Duggan defend his record

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is seeking a second term. He made that clear at a gathering of community leaders last week. His official announcement is expected Feb. 4 at the Samaritan Center on the city’s eastside.

It is symbolic because that is where he made his first mayoral announcement that took him to the 11th floor of the Coleman A. Young Center as the first white mayor of Detroit in four decades.

But unlike his first run in 2013, when he faced a multitude of colorful candidates like Tom Barrow, Fred Durhal Jr., and others and ended up defeating Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon 55-45 percent in the general election, Duggan, so far is not expected to face any serious challenge in 2017.

That is not healthy for participatory democracy to have the mayor run unopposed, without the kind of challenge that should ignite a healthy debate about what direction the city is taking.

After all, the mayor occupies an elected office and this is not a monarchy. The lack of any credible challenge denies Detroiters the opportunity of hearing the mayor defend and fully explain the record of his first term.

A contested race would force the incumbent to explain what he has done — successes and failures — during his administration.

The city’s economic development initiatives, its quest for an inclusive economy, the state of minority businesses, neighborhood revitalization efforts, public safety, the demolition program and the Land Bank Authority, which is under federal investigation, are among the issues that would initiate fierce debate for the public in mayoral forums of several contenders.

Another issue would be how an incoming mayor would be able to navigate the challenges of dealing with President Donald Trump when it comes to federal help for Detroit.

Duggan is a skillful and tactful politician. I doubt he has any trepidation about facing a challenge in this year’s race. That is why I was surprised when I read a news report that the mayor reportedly told a community meeting that he wants a strong showing in the August primary election to ensure a smooth reelection in November.

I asked a Duggan confidante recently about why the mayor appears concerned about the need to perform strongly in the primary. “The mayor is very competitive and likes competition,” she said, and then she laughed.

If that is the case, let’s have the competition. So far no one with a serious resume, credibility and political experience has stepped up. Detroit City Council president Brenda Jones has been mentioned as a possible contender. But she quickly debunked the idea when asked about it.

To his credit, Duggan in 2013 ran an effective campaign that connected with everyday Detroiters by meeting them in their homes and spending considerable time listening to their concerns.

The color of his skin did not prevent him from taking the top job in a majority African American city, even when some of his critics suggested race would be the deciding factor.

Duggan, who won as a write-in candidate, also had the advantage of a well oiled political machine backed by a campaign war chest that was supported by the business community.

Let’s be clear there isn’t a unified view of the present direction the city is taking. Some people feel a part of the recovery and others don’t.

Duggan should be able to make a case about why he feels the current trajectory is the right one. A race with more than one candidate gives the public an opportunity to hear who is making the best case.

That is called democracy.

Twitter: @bankieT

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910AM weekdays at noon. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.