Detroit's Nearly Invisible Mayoral Race: Young Needs a TKO in Debate

October 24, 2017, 11:30 PM by  Jalal Abdallah

The old philosophical question goes: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

That question might apply to the Detroit mayoral campaign of 2017. It's supposedly going on, but does it make a sound anyone really hears?

Pundits and commentators have remarked about the low visibility of the race  between incumbent Mike Duggan and challenger, state Sen. Coleman A. Young II, son of the late Mayor Coleman A. Young. It has barely registered a bleep on the radar.  Lawn signs? Political rallies? While they may not be non-existent, they’re hard to find.


"This election is done, Coleman didn’t even get Duggan on his toes and at least challenge him to make him do his job better; missed opportunities all around," says Steve Hood, a political consultant and radio host on 910 AM Superstation. "There has been no measurable uptake in absentee ballots and that is only another reason why Young’s campaign is doomed."

On Wednesday from 8-9 p.m., Young has his best shot to try and change the narrative during a debate with Duggan on WDIV and Detroit Public TV. But he'll have to land a knockout punch, which may not be so easy with Duggan, who is regarded as being very politically savvy. If Young  comes off as too aggressive or desperate, it could have a reverse effect at the election polls on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

"He could get a KO performance in the debate, but that’s an unreasonable hope to depend on," Hood says.

Duggan trounced Young in the primary, and he appears to be ahead in the polls now. And while we generally like to trust polls, the 2016 presidential election is reminder just how flawed they can be. 

As in the 2016 general election, the media was faulted for not doing enough to talk to people around the country, to gage the mood of the electorate.

In this instance, it’s fair to say the Detroit media collectively has done a fairly poor job of covering the election, examining the candidates’ backgrounds, the issue and talking to people all around the city. 

This is almost universally seen as Duggan’s race to lose.

Duggan's Strategy

It appears Duggan strategy is to take the high road, show up at ceremonial events like ground breakings that show Detroit at its best, and avoid talking about his opponent. He's tried to emphasize that he's for a Detroit where all benefit from a comeback.

Young has been on the offensive, trying every chance he gets to attack Duggan and accuse of being shady. He points to an FBI investigation into the city’s Land Bank and demolition program. He also has accused him of only caring about Midtown and dowtown and ignoring the neighborhoods.

He's gotten a little media coverage riding the city buses to campaign and chat with riders. 

Duggan has pretty much avoided getting into a political tiff with Young. But recently he couldn’t ignore a jab in his rib:  Young released a campaign commercial accusing him of bid rigging and operating like imprisoned ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Duggan’s chief of staff Alexis Wiley quickly fired off a response to Deadline Detroit: "This ad is totally false. This is the kind of vile stuff we've come to expect from this campaign. We are disgusted by it but not surprised."

Young has run on a platform of big ideas, anti-Duggan barbs and an insistence that a white mayor can’t truly understand the needs of a black majority city. In late August, Young appeared in a rap video promoting his campaign. When it was over, he appears and says with all white supremacy on display around the country "we cannot have that going on in the Manoogian," a reference to the mayoral residence. 

Young's Criticisms

Young insists that Detroit still lags behind other major U.S. cities in mass transportation and education.

He believes gentrification has caused the mayor to forget about the majority of neighborhoods with longtime residents and about the need for more jobs. 

Young has some valid points and his criticisms of Duggan are not entirely unfounded, but he hasn't raised the necessary funds to legitimately challenge Duggan. His campaign also has had some embarrassments, such as his website being taken down for nonpayment. 

Young's campaign manager Adolph Mongo did not return a call for comment. 

Pollster Ed Sarpolus tells Deadline Detroit that Young can't battle properly.

"Where are Coleman's financial resources? He needed to step up his game after he only raised $22,000 during the primary season and he hasn't proven he can do that."

Asked why Duggan has been so far ahead, Sarpolus says:

"Detroit has always been about who was the better candidate, Young does not have the donors that Duggan possesses, the resources that Duggan possesses. Young is not making enough noise to challenge Duggan and Duggan is keeping the noise to a minimum. Duggan does not want any stories to come out before Election Day."

Hood thinks Young missed a lot of opportunities that cost him dearly like "the Kid Rock concert protest, the protest of the 8 Mile Supplementary cop’s beating of a suspected and innocent shoplifter. Coleman never used any of those opportunities to show up and wake the masses."

Detroit Public TV graphic

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