The Mike Duggan Interview: 'I Expect To Raise Expectations'

On October 31, Detroit mayoral candidate Mike Duggan, who is in the midst of 90-day a self-described "listening campaign," sat down with Deadline Detroit to discuss his mayoral prospects and what needs to be done to fix the city. We hope to sit down with every viable mayoral candidate as the 2013 election process moved forward.

Deadline Detroit: You’re about halfway through your 90-day trial period, are you leaning one way or the other?

Mike Duggan: I’m a political professional. We’ll assess everything, get the team together at the end of December, but certainly things have gone extremely well.

DD: The race question continues to pop up and I want to ask it this way: You have a long history in local politics, and what I’m wondering is if you were running a prospective opponent’s campaign—running against you—wouldn’t you advise your candidate to hit hard on the race issue?

MD: It’s interesting, when I ran for prosecutor I was against two strong African-American candidates, Sharon McPhail and Virgil Smith, and it was an odd situation. In that prosecutor’s race, I was endorsed by a majority of the African-American city council members and state legislators. Sharon McPhail was endorsed by a majority of the white city council members and state legislators and I think we’ve made progress even since then. So, all I can tell you is I’m in a different living room in every corner of this city. Obviously the great majority of residents of this city are African-American, and the great majority of people in these living rooms are African-American, and I’m being welcomed in every neighborhood in the city and it’s going very well.

DD: But just to follow-up, Freman Hendrix was tagged as not being black enough to be mayor of Detroit and I think that hurt him in 2005…

MD: That was a different day and a different time.

DD: How does a race in Detroit differ from a race in Wayne County?

MD: The services are very different. The mayor is far more immediately relevant to the people’s lives than the county executive is. And so the level of knowledge people have on city services is completely different from the level of knowledge they have on county services. The county takes care of the roads and runs the airport, but the city—the police, the garbage pick-up, the streetlights. It’s far more immediate to people’s quality of life, and the questions people ask are far more knowledgeable and sophisticated.

DD: And what do you estimate it will cost to run a viable campaign?

MD: It’s going to be a $5 million campaign and the commitments in fundraising are going very well.

DD: So you’re confident if you go in full bore, you’re going be able to compete?

MD: Right now—we’re going to make that decision at the end of December—but right now the fundraising commitments are going very well. People seem very excited.

DD: When Mayor Bing came into office and, I think, Kilpatrick and Archer before him, they kind of came into office with this almost savior aura. Do you worry about having to manage expectations if you’re elected?

MD: No, I expect to raise expectations. I don’t know about the whole savior thing. I’m a person who recruits a team. When I came into the Detroit Medical Center I didn’t have a hospital background, but I recruited a very talented group of leaders. I’m confident I could recruit a very talented group of leaders who could turn the city administration around.

You know, when I came into DMC, DMC had lost $500 million in five years and was six months away from running out of cash. We didn’t have time for this nonsense of three-year plans and five-year plans. We would’ve been out of business. 

So, when I hear conversations about “it’s harder than I thought,” “it’s going to take longer than I thought,” “people have to be very patient,” it just makes me very angry. We don’t have that kind of time in the city, and there’s no reason we can make very quick improvements in the police department and response time and the affect on the violence. There’s no reason we can’t make quick improvements getting the streetlights to work and in dealing with abandoned houses—certainly, targeting areas, and moving quickly and then progressing from area to area.

People who don’t have high expectations of me…they shouldn’t be voting for me.

DD: But I see a difference between the DMC and city in that, even though it has traditionally been non-profit, there is a revenue stream that comes into the hospital. The city has a declining tax base. Is the turnaround process different for a government than for a hospital?

MD: I’ve been through a lot of them. When I came in as deputy county executive, Wayne County had a $130 million deficit and a $200 million budget. We balanced that and kept it balanced for 15 years. In the early 1990s, I became general manager of the SMART bus system when it was out of cash, and it’s still operating today. We turned it around and ran it profitably. The principles are the same. You need to operate efficiently. You can’t afford to waste dollars. You need to prioritize your services. On the government side, the public will trust you with a buck if you’re running the services well. What the public won’t do is pay taxes for services that are poor. The complaints I get out of the city is that people see their taxes as high—which they are—but they’re not saying to me “Lower the taxes.” They’re saying to me, “Get the police to show up and get the streetlights on for the taxes I’m paying.” I think that’s doable.

DD: You mention your experience with SMART, so what needs to happen with DDOT?

MD: The same thing we did at SMART. We prioritized the routes, we put in an efficient scheduling system, and we reorganized the way work was done in the garages. We didn’t hit people with wage concessions, but we fundamentally changed the work rules. SMART had 800 employees. I think 770 were union members. We did it with union-management cooperation. No one stuck a gun to somebody’s head. We sat in the room and worked things out together. The same thing needs to happen at DDOT. You have to get the drivers and mechanics bought in to the direction and to the commitment to excellent and timely service. It’s what I’ve done every place I’ve been.

DD: With DDOT specifically what needs to be done that hasn’t been done?

MD: I know exactly what needs to be done. At SMART we had the most expensive maintenance operation in the country—there were national benchmarks—and we had continual breakdowns. The riders were very angry and looking for other forms of transportation. You have than happening in the city today. People are taking cabs they can’t afford because they can’t rely on the buses.

I went into the [SMART] garages with the UAW mechanics and they had, I’m going to say, 15 different job classifications from transmission to steering to oil change and the like. We structured a deal for a single general mechanic classification, so everybody could work as teams to repair things and I gave them a two-year no-layoff commitment. Two years later we had one of the most efficient garages in America and all the jobs were protected.

That kind of cooperation needs to be done. The last time I looked at DDOT, they had the old inefficient structure. It’s not something where you stick a gun to somebody’s head and threaten them. You sit down together and say ok—nobody knows the inefficiencies of city government more than the workers doing the jobs. They know exactly what’s wrong. What they haven’t been shown is the way out of it. If we can show people how they benefit on the upside when you help us redesign the service, you can get people to cooperate.

DD: Is that something that transfers to the police department, the fire department?

MD: Sure. Absolutely.

DD: How so?

MD: Well, I sat with the fire fighters union. They have very specific ideas on how to change staffing on the rigs and the like. They think it could save the city significant money and would love to talk about that as an alternative to a 10% forced wage cut—the conversations we should be having.

The Detroit Police Department has significant inefficiencies in the way calls are handled. They are also significant inefficiencies in the number of paid officers who are doing jobs that civilians could be doing back in the precincts.

But here’s the most fundamental thing. You can say whatever you want about you don’t have money. We’ve had four police chiefs in four years. You can’t have a concerted strategy to fight crime when you don’t have consistent leadership. That has nothing to do with a lack of money. There are a lot of problems here that are a lot deeper than, you know, we don’t have enough money.

DD: If you’re elected, do you use a nationwide search for police chief or do you look inside the department or do you look at both?

MD: You look at both. If you can find somebody from Detroit you’re better off. If you can’t, then you have to take the top talent nationally. You have to get the person who will change the culture of the organization. I thought Warren Evans was doing a lot of things right. I would have preferred to see them build on his success as opposed to terminate him the way he was.

The strategies he was pursuing were the right ones and if we could find someone who was from here and could pursue those strategies that would be preferable. If you can’t, then we have to look nationally.

DD: What about the school system? Do you touch that or do you leave that alone?

MD: I think the job of the mayor is to support the school system. We should get the abandoned properties cleaned up near the schools so the kids are safe going to and from school. We should encourage businesses to do what DMC has done with a program we call Project Genesis. We hire 100 DPS high school kids every summer to do $10 an hour jobs so they can see what careers look like in the medical and science field. We ought to be doing things like that.

I don’t see taking over the school system. The next mayor has a huge amount on his or her plate—getting the police to respond to calls and getting the streetlights on and getting the abandoned houses fixed—before he starts telling the schools how to run the school system.

DD: What is your relationship, if you have one, with Governor Snyder and the folks in Lansing?

MD: It’s cordial. The state of Michigan is a huge funder of indigent medical care in the state and a huge funder of DMC. Governor Snyder and the Republican legislature have treated us very fairly in the last couple years. We have a good working relationship.

DD: What would be your top priority, your day one task if you’re elected?

MD: Get the violence down. It’s all about safety. If this city is not safe, people will not want to live here, they aren’t going to want to open businesses here, and they aren’t going to want to visit here. So safety is the overwhelming priority.

DD: Without expecting you to get into the nuts and bolts of law enforcement because that’s maybe not the job—or would be your job as mayor—but how do you strategically go about doing that?

MD: I was the prosecutor for three years. I understand the nuts and bolts of law enforcement extremely well.

DD: Ok, then give me the nuts and bolts.

MD: You do two things. The jobs that can be done in the precincts by trained civilians ought to be done by trained civilians, and we need to maximize the number of officers on the streets. That has got to be the first priority. We need to get the trained law enforcement officers responding to calls and solving and preventing crimes. Second, we need to bring the prosecutor, the sheriff, the U.S. Attorney, the DEA, and the Detroit Police Department together in the single, concerted strategy to get the gun violence down. Places that have had great success reducing violence—New York, Los Angeles, Richmond, Boston—have had coordinated efforts between the city, the county, and the federal government. I think that’s essential. That means I have to be an advocate for the prosecutor’s budget, even though that’s not technically under the city. I think we need a more global approach than what we’ve had.

DD: Are there some services the city could be sharing with the county or maybe with more regional authorities? Going from the strong home rule structure to like you see in Indianapolis with Unigov, do see somewhere in there that Detroit needs to go?

MD: I don’t see anything in the short-run that has value. I think if anything it’s getting too fragmented. I’m really troubled by all these authorities that are being created. I think it’s the working in the wrong direction. What’s happening is people see government isn’t working and the solution is to create a bunch of authorities. That’s not the solution. The solution is to get competent management in place.

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