Detroit crews tending to 20 water main breaks as demand surges amid prolonged dry spell

Finley: Duggan must build one Detroit

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

If Mike Duggan mentioned the word downtown in his State of the City address, I missed it.

Odd, on the surface. What’s happened in downtown Detroit since the mayor came to office four years ago is phenomenal, and the list of projects slated to come to life over the next four years could easily have filled two-thirds of Tuesday’s hour-long speech.

But Duggan is running for re-election. And when he made his unlikely bid for mayor four years ago, the white, ex-suburbanite promised life would get better for the predominately African-American residents of the city’s neighborhoods.

Redevelopment of the neighborhoods has not matched downtown’s boom. Duggan understands that if he’s at all vulnerable in the upcoming election, it is because of the resentment of the city’s inequitable progress.

He faces at least one opponent in state Sen. Coleman Young II, who will beat the Two Detroits drum. While the affable Young lacks Duggan’s executive skills and his father’s political wiles, he has a powerful ballot name and is well-liked in the community.

Whether or not Duggan actually has anything to worry about in this race, he’s taking no chances.

He spoke only to the neighborhoods Tuesday — that’s where the votes are — pledging that “starting today,” their story will change on a number of fronts, and he will help build a Detroit “that includes everybody.”

That’s not the course the city has been taking during its comeback, but it is the city Detroiters expect from Duggan.

Pulling off the promises would keep Duggan in the mayor’s office for as long as he wants. But it’s a major pledge, not easy to fulfill.

From getting residents the skills they need to take jobs rebuilding the city to assuring affordable housing in every district to unplugging the storm drains and sweeping the streets to slashing insurance costs, Duggan vowed to attack nearly every irritant and annoyance that nag at Detroiters.

These “state of” speeches, whether at the local, state or national levels, always have a pie in the sky aura.

But give Duggan credit for matching the promises with specific and seemingly doable action plans.

He’s not trying to swallow the elephant of Detroit’s neighborhood deterioration in one gulp, but rather eating away at it in bite-size chunks.

For example, the $30 million he’s raised for projects in the Livernois-McNichols, West Village and Clark Park neighborhoods will go toward demonstration projects aimed at proving targeted redevelopment can spark a much larger revival.

On crime — one of the two major obstacles to repopulating Detroit — Duggan says he is finally filling the police academy, thanks to higher pay for cops, and residents can expect to see more patrol cars on their streets.

On the other, schools, Duggan said he’d fight the Snyder administration’s plan to close 24 schools. But he didn’t say how he’d make them better.

Like so much in Detroit, education has defied a solution. But finding the answers is essential to creating one Detroit.

And it’s how Duggan will be judged by the vast majority of Detroiters who don’t live downtown or in one of the newly hip nearby neighborhoods.

Every line of his speech Tuesday indicates he understands well the campaign challenge he faces.

Nolan Finley’s book “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is available from Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble Nook.