Bankole: Detroiters' voices heard in bond defeat

Bankole Thompson

On the eve of the decisive defeat of Mayor Mike Duggan’s $250 million bond proposal, hundreds of Detroiters showed up at city hall to voice their distrust of the administration’s push to end blight by 2025. The special public hearing convened by the Detroit City Council stood in stark contrast to previous such sessions because of the crowd and energy in the room.

Crowds pack a Detroit public hearing about whether the City Council should place a $250 million bond measure to continue to eliminate blight on the March ballot

Many in the Coleman A. Young auditorium Monday evening told the City Council that they were sick and tired of being pawns on the Duggan administration's political chessboard.

They lamented a recovery that is yet to be realized in their neighborhoods, while downtown and its surrounding areas continue to receive massive investments that Duggan touts as progress for the city.

Some did a roll call of the mayor’s missteps that include the recent federal demolition probe, a scathing auditor general’s report that claimed the administration is not following demolition rules, as well as the Make Your Date email scandal that was the subject of a recent search warrant executed at city hall by the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. 

Testimony that grabbed the most attention was that of a young family who claimed the city had failed to enforce its rental ordinance and that, as a result, they’ve been the victims of unfair evictions and water and electricity shutoffs in their home.

The voice of a trembling young woman detailing the hardships she and her family are going through in this recovery reverberated throughout the auditorium. Before she took her seat, she asked council members why they'd use hundreds of millions of dollars in bond funds when families like hers are suffering from a lack of access to decent and affordable housing.

The testimonies were yet another verdict against Mayor Duggan's recovery that has proven not to be inclusive. That is why the council vote on Tuesday must be seen as simply an affirmation of the cries of struggling residents heard the day before the bond vote. 

Council members Brenda Jones, Mary Sheffield, Raquel Castañeda-López, Andre Spivey, James Tate and Roy McCalister Jr. took the unprecedented step to send a message to Duggan by voting to reject the blight proposal from being placed on the March ballot. Only three council members — Scott Benson, Janeé Ayers and Gabe Leland — stuck with the mayor by voting in favor of the demolition bond.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan talks to reporters in the lobby of his office at city hall after the City Council on Tuesday voted down a contentious proposal to put a $250 million bond before city voters in the spring. The council rejected the measure, 6-3, after lengthy public comment as well as a four-hour public hearing Monday night that drew upwards of 500 residents, clergy and some lawmakers, many of which shared strong objections while others warned of the dangers associated with vacant houses and urged support.

Not one to accept political defeat, Duggan said he would recalibrate and sit down with council to work out the differences later. That is typical of an administration that doesn’t admit to its mistakes.

Several of the members who turned down Duggan's proposal are often reliable backers of the mayor at the council table. Spivey, Tate and McCalister regularly side with the administration, but decided to change their minds following a grueling public debate on the issue.

Most importantly, the position that the majority of the council members took this week demonstrated they are not at the beck and call of the mayor. It also indicates that the scandals rocking the administration are beginning to impact how the mayor is perceived by the council, whose members were hired by Detroiters, not Duggan.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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