Bankole: Ex-mayor Bing’s black leadership message fails

Bankole Thompson

Dave Bing, who served as mayor of Detroit from 2009-13, is no stranger to speaking out about black equity and other disturbing issues in the black community since leaving elected office. But his most recent remarks in a lengthy podcast interview with journalist Charlie LeDuff give us reason to pause and analyze what Bing is saying.

Former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing arrives for the funeral of Judge Damon Keith.

In the interview, Bing bemoaned the current state of black leadership in Detroit, contending the city is run by a few oligarchs, and added that religious leaders for the most part have sold their souls. In essence, like Judas, some clergy men and women have traded their integrity for some 30 pieces of silver.  

“The faith-based community, in my opinion, has been bought and sold. Thirty years ago, that was not the case,” Bing said in the interview.

Bing’s comments about Detroit under Mayor Mike Duggan warrants an honest conversation about the future of blacks in this economic revitalization. His remarks are relevant and instructive, but for all the wrong reasons. That is because they are coming too late, and Bing’s opportunity to right the wrongs that he is complaining about has passed.

As mayor, Bing had the attention of the city’s business leaders because of his pedigree and resume as a prominent entrepreneur with crossover appeal. Because of his success not only as a former NBA player, but also a civic leader, he is viewed as an ambassador from the black community to the corporate world. That means he could sit down with any industry captain in this region and discuss matters that are important to the well-being of his black constituents.

The truth is that Dave Bing had the authority as mayor to anchor the economic ship safely to shore, including putting the safeguards in place for inclusion in the same way former Mayor Coleman A. Young did. Despite the challenges he confronted leading up to the municipal bankruptcy six years ago, he could have laid down some markers for inclusion when he called the shots on the 11th Floor of the Coleman Young Municipal Center.

I had a number of sit-down interviews with Bing when he was leading the city, and during those encounters I didn’t recall any clear-cut anti-poverty policies executed by his administration, even though he faced some of the same issues now magnified by the current Duggan administration. To his credit, he got things like street lighting done, for which he hardly gets commended these days. I remember when he asked me to meet him at the Skyline Club in Southfield for a one-on-one conversation about the state of the city. For more than an hour, we spoke about the challenges of Detroit, and my impression from our conversation was a mayor trying to convince me to see his side of the story.

Still, his message is a didactic lesson for current black leaders who have chosen to stay silent and safe. It is a reminder for those who have decided not to raise any constructive critique of the missing gaps in the recovery because of foundation grants and pet projects to choose between personal gain and public good. It is a call on those who have abandoned their historic role as a conscience in the black community because of mayoral appointments to choose between boards and commissions for personal advancement, and telling Duggan publicly where he is missing the mark on poverty. 

The reticence of black leadership also underscores the point the scholar W.E.B. Du Bois in the “Talented Tenth” essay was making when he explained how the salvation of the black community would have to be led by those from within. Bing is part of that class of leadership because he is looked upon by some as the definition of a successful black man. 

But unfortunately, nearly all of those in that leadership rank currently won't speak out about how inclusion remains a challenge. 

So, after Bing gave his take, all you will hear from the rest of those he targeted is crickets, because there is dearth of bold leadership that will call for actual policies to alleviate the sufferings of Detroiters left out of the recovery.