Mayor Duggan? He's Got the Credentials, and Many Detroiters Would Support Him

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A Mike Duggan run for mayor of Detroit is a compelling idea to so many key constituencies and for so many reasons, it’s hard to see what might stand in its way.

Duggan, who has just established city residency, made clear in a radio interview Monday morning that he’s not going to run against his friend Dave Bing if the latter tries for a second term. Not to worry: Few believe Bing will run again, having now experienced a job that: a) he dislikes b) is hurting his health and c) that’s unsuited to his talents and skill set.

By contrast, Duggan has acquitted himself well, and seems to thrive, as chief executive officer of Detroit Medical Center, a demanding job requiring political, financial and social talents.

For the long-suffering citizens of Detroit, a Duggan tenure would represent a new style of leadership in city hall, one that places a premium on delivering services to the customers. For city workers, he would bring practical problem-solving to the often contentious task of fostering agreements between the city and its unions. Business leaders and merchants will relate to his demonstrated ability to manage capital, costs and benefits – as evidenced by the conversion of the DMC to a profit-making company.

Most importantly, a Duggan victory in the fall of 2013 would lay to rest widespread presumption that Detroit’s citizenry is unwilling to follow a leader who isn’t African American. The electorate, which is 90 percent African-American has elected a few white officials, but never a non-African American mayor since Coleman Young succeeded Roman Gribbs in 1974.

I’ve heard Duggan say he doesn’t think of himself as a “white guy.” To paraphrase a recent interview: When they bring someone into the emergency room who’s had a heart attack, he said, we don’t say we’ve got a black man or a white woman, only someone who needs care.

When Sen. Barack Obama’s name was first floated as a possible presidential candidate, lots of presumably intelligent, informed people declared confidently that white U.S. voters would never elect an African-American. The polls said that plenty of voters were open-minded -- but hey, everyone lies to pollsters, right?

Perhaps we should just open our minds to the possibility that the nation is inching closer to a post-racial society, especially among the young. Maybe we are fairer than the cynics say.

In any event, the election of Duggan or any non-African American political leader in Detroit will signal that a significant chapter in the city’s history may be drawing to a close, one of racial polarity and population exodus. And what a relief it will be when Detroit chooses a leader that has the wisdom and strength to oversee the repair of city finances and restoration of services.

The unpredictable nature of politics means that much could change before November 2013. The Financial Advisory Board’s prospect for success is uncertain at best. But watch for a signal in the next six to nine months that Mayor Bing is ready to turn over the reins, as he originally said he would after one term. And then pay attention to those from the African-American leadership of Detroit who will say publicly that a Mike Duggan candidacy is a good thing.

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