Finley: Mike Duggan’s challenge is to unite Detroit

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Elections are a wonderful catalyst for refocusing priorities, as evidenced by the just-completed Detroit mayoral campaign, which moved the city’s comeback conversation away from the downtown development boom and centered it on the uneven progress of the neighborhoods.

Never before has such an intense spotlight shown on the places where most Detroit voters actually live.

Give credit to challenger Coleman Young II, who forced Mayor Mike Duggan to defend his record on improving quality of life in the neighborhoods.

Duggan prevailed Tuesday over the state senator, who ran a spirited campaign and is a passionate and talented young man with great empathy for the struggles of his constituents. He will have a leadership future in the evolving Detroit, if he can shake off old-school advisers who pushed him toward black nationalism in this campaign.

That many voters resonated to Young’s ugly “Take back the Motherland” rallying cry is dispiriting, and speaks to the challenge ahead for Duggan as he begins a second four-year term.

Detroit is not a city united. It must become one.

There were too many skirmishes along the racial divide in this mayoral contest. The old city versus suburb story line was replaced by a neighborhoods versus downtown narrative, but both are code for black versus white.

Four years ago, Duggan’s election as Detroit’s first white mayor in 40 years suggested much of the city was ready to stop looking back at its dark and divisive past and begin focusing on a brighter future. But that vision must be evident where people live.

The mayor, in his first four years, devoted himself to improving the quality of life for residents. Rehabilitation is spreading to long forgotten places such as Brightmoor. Developers are beginning to add community projects to their downtown portfolios, as The Platform is doing in simultaneously rehabbing the Fisher Building and commercial strips in hard-hit districts.

Philanthropic dollars are shifting from Midtown, New Center and downtown projects to new developments in areas such as Livernois/Six Mile, which has fully caught the comeback fever.

And yet, too many in the neighborhoods feel as if their lives are not getting better, or at least not fast enough. Duggan must redouble his efforts to restore the city’s residential communities, and push ahead the timetable.

Good schools and safe streets equal quality neighborhoods. Four years from now, Detroit can not still be wearing the mantle of America’s most violent city.

And while the mayor has little to do with education in Detroit, it is in Duggan’s self-interest, and the city’s, to get fully behind new Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s efforts to rapidly boost the performance of the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The mayor must also find a way to connect the neighborhoods to downtown, to instill in all residents a sense of ownership and pride in the rejuvenation of the core city.

That means getting way better at inclusion. Downtown’s comeback must be more diverse, and include many more of the people who have grown up and stayed in the city.

Encouraging and supporting more African-American entrepreneurs is a great place to begin breaking down the perception that downtown is just for white people.

At the same time, the young white professionals who have flooded into downtown, bringing with them a fierce loyalty to the city and creative energy, should be embraced. Detroit needs them, as it needs more diversity everywhere in the city, both racial and economic.

These millennial professionals are of a different breed than the whites who turned their backs on Detroit during its six-decade slide. They are steeped in social justice and imbued with the obsession to give back that marks their generation. They are committed Detroiters.

And they deserve to be appreciated for their contributions, not made to feel guilty or viewed as a threat to hard-won gains. The new, young urban dwellers aren’t interested in taking over Detroit, but rather melding into their communities and adding their value to them.

Detroit must become, as was once said of Atlanta, a city too busy to hate. Too consumed with winning to resent anyone’s success. Too hell-bent on returning to its place among America’s great cities to allow old grievances to stand in the way.

Mike Duggan has another four years to lead Detroit to that place. With the election over, all Detroiters should commit to following him there.

Catch The Nolan Finley Show weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.

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