Charlie LeDuff is a former reporter for Fox 2, The New York Times and Detroit News. He is the author of "Detroit: An American Autopsy." His latest book, "SH*TSHOW," comes out in May. He is a Deadline Detroit contributor.
By Charlie LeDuff
Balloons at the re-election party for Mayor Mike Duggan at the Detroit Marriott had hardly been swept away before the trial balloons, filled with stale air, began to rise.
Just two days after the Nov. 7 election, a new poll commissioned by MIRS news service in Lansing showed Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette in a virtual dead-heat as their party's presumptive nominees for the 2018 governor's race.
But for some reason and at somebody's behest, the poll also matched Duggan against Schuette. And wouldn't you know it? It's Duggan the Democrat in a 15-point landslide. Now, we're all asked to consider whether Duggan might be the stronger candidate to return the state house to Democratic control?
It couldn't have been scripted better if Duggan had conducted the polling and written the stories himself. And who knows? The guy's a political magician. He refers to the local media as his 'partners' and the media doesn't complain.
But go all the way down to the second paragraph of the news release announcing the poll results: In a head-to-head Democratic primary run-off, Whitmer, the former Senate Democratic Leader, romps Duggan by 14 percent.
That should tell you something. Duggan is weak.
The poll was conducted during the last week of the mayoral campaign, where Duggan had siphoned all the headlines and all the money. His campaign spent more than $2.5 million to defeat State Senator Coleman A. Young Jr., a political whelp who still lives with his mother, dresses like his late father, yammered on about electromagnetic transportation pods and couldn't raise enough cash to buy a car. Despite all that, Senator Moonbeam only had to tag Diamond Mike as a crook to scrape together nearly 30 percent of the vote.
Facing experienced and well-financed competition, Duggan's lead bag of legal troubles is the reason his governor's balloon may never lift off.
First there is the federal investigation into his once ballyhooed Demolition Program. Duggan no longer speaks about it, except to say that the speed of the demolitions got ahead of the paperwork and he was told by the U.S. Treasury, which funds the work, to slow down.
That's one way to look at it. But it's been 18-months of investigation by the Feds, and three dozen subpoenas by my last count. An out-of-town investigative team is living at a local hotel, sources tell me. At least one grand jury been impaneled, proffer sheets (a precursor to plea bargains) have been signed by co-operating witnesses and tens of thousands of public dollars have been spent for the mayor's legal fees. Hardly a nuisance claim, as the mayor wishes you to believe. The feds don't spend tens of millions over bad paperwork.
Antagonize the Feds
Duggan puffing up for a gubernatorial run will antagonize the feds. Making oneself look too big to fail creates a bigger target -- something Whitmer and Schuette will pound on.
Then there is the Detroit police towing scandal.
Remember, Chief of Police James E. Craig doubles as the deputy mayor of Detroit and Craig's former deputy chief has been indicted for taking bribes in connection with no-bid towing contracts.
According to a transcript of an FBI wiretap obtained by Deadline Detroit, indicted towing magnate Gaspar Fiore thought he was on such good terms with Duggan that he could call in a favor when it came to the towing contracts. There is certainly no public evidence to date to suggest a favor was ever granted from city hall, but politics being what they are, it's enough to dent a 15 point gap. That grand jury investigation is ongoing.
And then there is the Flint water debacle. Attorney General Schuette has charged 15 people in the poisoning of the people of Vehicle City. Insiders tell me that investigation is widening, moving its way toward the people who put the financing together for the new water system.
One of the main architects of that deal was David Massaron, who simultaneously served as the bond attorney for the city of Flint, the county of Genessee and the new water authority. Massaron now serves as Duggan's deputy chief of staff.
Should charges come for securities fraud and false pretenses, that would be Strike Three. Campaigning with the stink of the Flint River on you is not a good smell.
If he was taking my advice, and I'm sure he's not, I'd tell Hizzoner to keep quiet and get some sleep. He's gonna need it.