Editorial: Mayor Duggan should come clean

The Detroit News
Mayor Mike Duggan addresses the media one day after federal investigators secured guilty pleas from two men in a lengthy criminal investigation into the city's demolition program.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan owes the city a more thorough explanation of his relationship with a woman who runs a local charity he's accused of improperly using city resources to assist.

Duggan, at a press conference last week, repeatedly refused to answer questions about the nature of his friendship with Dr. Sonia Hassan, the volunteer head of Make Your Date, a charity affiliated with Wayne State University that works to prevent premature births.

"I'm never going to talk about my personal life," Duggan told reporters.

That's fair, to a point. The mayor has a right to a certain degree of privacy, and his marriage and personal friendships qualify as personal business — until they impact his public role as mayor.

More:Duggan says city never 'directed a cent' to nonprofit involved in investigation

And there's reason to believe that is the case here.

Ellen Ha, head of the city's Office of Inspector General, launched an investigation into allegations Duggan deployed his appointees to support a proposed Make Your Date fundraiser. The fundraiser never happened. But it did raise concerns that Duggan improperly used city resources to help a friend.

Questions about the nature of Duggan's relationship with Hassan arose after disgruntled businessman Bob Carmack, who has a long-running property dispute with the city, hired private detectives to follow the mayor to the doctor's home in Novi. Carmack alleges Duggan misused city property in driving his city-owned car on personal visits.

Carmack posted the tapes on a mobile video board last winter and drove it around city hall. He also hired airplanes to stream banners above Comerica Park suggesting an affair between Duggan and Hassan.

This is unsavory stuff, and something neither Detroit nor Duggan needs.

The mayor must know how hollow his "personal life" defense rings in a city where the devastation caused by former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is still a fresh memory.

Kilpatrick, now in a federal penitentiary, evoked that same argument to deflect scrutiny of his affair with his chief of staff, which became the prelude for the collapse of his administration.

Duggan allowed his personal life to bleed into his official life by giving the appearance that Hassan's charity was getting special treatment from the city. 

He says that's not true, and it's something the inspector general will have to sort out.

It must be said that Make Your Date is doing important work. Detroit's infant mortality rate rivals that of many third world countries, and premature births are a leading cause. It's understandable that Duggan would want to offer the city's support.

But if that assistance grew out of an improper relationship between him and Hassan, then there are ethical questions that should be addressed.

The mayor should be much more forthcoming about that relationship.