Bankole: Duggan points at media, ignores Detroit’s ills

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Where has Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan been for the last four years?

In a recent interview, the mayor said that the concept of “two Detroits” is a narrative he rejects, calling it “90 percent media.”

Has he read the Detroit Future City report that shows how many Detroiters are being left behind in the city’s comeback, and that black residents are significantly lacking in employment compared to their white counterparts? In that report, economic growth has occurred only in the business district, where 33 percent of jobs are held by blacks compared to 61 percent by whites. The report also found an alarming 53 percent of Detroiters live in areas of concentrated poverty, with 57 percent of Detroit’s kids confined to economic misery.

This is the other Detroit the mayor is claiming is made up by the media.

Has the mayor read the Urban Institute report released last year that found that 57 percent of federal and local tax subsidies for new developments between 2013-2015 are being used in Midtown and downtown?

And has Duggan taken stock in the latest census report showing Detroit has the highest level of poverty, 35 percent, among the nation’s largest cities?

Despite this painful and irrefutable evidence of how economically divided the city is, the mayor wants to proffer an indefensible position that these economic hardships are a creation of the media.

This posture by Duggan shows he simply is a man who does not want to face reality, and — like President Donald Trump — wants to blame the media for the issues unraveling under his administration.

Will Duggan engage in a full-throttle attack on the media for reporting and writing about the shortcomings of his administration like Trump has done repeatedly?

Maybe, like Trump, Duggan will start tweeting or using the term “fake news” when reports about his administration are unflattering or tell the grim realities of actions such as eviction notices and water shutoffs that many poor and disadvantaged families in the city often face.

But if anyone has been following the Duggan administration closely, this falsehood coming from the city’s chief executive is not new.

On the eve of his mayoral primary win last August, the mayor arrogantly brushed off a reporter by claiming that the notion of “two Detroits” is fictional. And during last year’s Mackinac Policy Conference, the mayor’s Twitter account claimed that if anyone was listening to the media, they’d think all the focus has been on Midtown and downtown, but residents know that was not the case.

This pattern of not wanting to accept the fact that he is governing a deeply divided city is unhelpful to the recovery efforts. The mayor’s refusal to cede to the undeniable truth about Detroit’s troubling social-economic conditions creates a credibility gap of his own making that will be difficult to overcome in the long run.

The mayor’s office should not be giving the impression that facts rooted in authoritative studies about those lagging in the city's recovery do not matter.

The facts are what they are. Duggan has his work cut out for him in bridging the economic divide within the city, and no amount of political mendacity can erase that.

And unless the mayor accepts those glaring facts and genuinely works to address them, he risks being perceived as a leader unconcerned about the plight of the people who put him in office.

Lest, we forget, this is the same administration whose failures resulted in a federal probe into the city’s demolition program.

And seeking to close the disparity in income and unemployment doesn’t start with taking the easy way out like Trump and others do by making the media the political scapegoat.

It begins with demonstrating an understanding of where and what the problems are, followed by a commitment and a process to begin wrestling the chronic problems that have long defined Detroit as a place of economic deprivation with a perennial underclass.

In keeping with the mayor’s second term theme of creating “One Detroit,” his focus also should be on making sure every voice counts. That includes those who may disagree with him because their narrative of Detroit is totally different from the Duggan viewpoint.

And the mayor should be welcoming and pay attention to the different perspectives regarding the city — that often run contrary to his comeback narrative — and not expect the media to become an extended arm of the city's communication department.

After all, the media isn’t the issue. Poverty is the issue that has sentenced many families and children to a permanent state of vulnerability and destitution. That is where the mayor should focus his attention and resources in fighting what is contributing to the economic segregation in the city.

More so, Duggan should follow the example of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose legacy and impact we’ve been celebrating all week. The slain civil rights leader addressed the concept of “The Other America “ in a April 14, 1967 speech at Stanford University. In that speech, King articulated the impending disasters and problems facing a nation divided by race and class that Detroit now embodies in every shape and form.

Just as King found, Duggan should be more accepting of the “two Detroit” perceptions. That it is not 90 percent manufactured by the media.

Mr. Mayor that is not how you can successfully govern, and certainly not the way to kick off 2018. We need you to succeed in this second term. But we cannot ignore the facts that will inform the kinds of policies that will uplift the lives of many who are undeserved in Detroit.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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