Lots of folks in southeast Michigan, including many Detroit voters, were justifiably enthusiastic about Mike Duggan’s bid to be the next mayor.
After all, he is a seasoned public servant. Most recently he ratified his leadership and managerial chops as CEO during the Detroit Medical Center turnaround. The fact that a white man could mount a Detroit mayoral campaign at all represented a measure of healing for a city with a history of frayed race relations.
Still, the law is the law – as a dismaying number of public servants have failed to realize.
Duggan couldn’t overcome the judgment of a county judge, backed by an appeals court, that he failed to comply with a city charter technicality. And he must have sensed that the Michigan Supreme Court was liable to side with the lower courts, dealing him another humiliating rebuke.
Duggan’s decision is right. Whoever in his campaign was responsible for the particulars of eligibility, that a candidate must be a Detroit resident for a year before filing – not at the filing deadline – isn’t to blame. Nor is Butch Hollowell, his campaign legal adviser. Nor is Dave Katz, his campaign manager.
The buck stops squarely with Duggan.
Eligibility. Legitimacy. Those were the key question marks swirling around Duggan’s bid to be mayor, much more than competence or energy or intelligence. Tom Barrow, a candidate with his own checkered legal past, deserves credit for identifying Duggan’s weakness and exploiting it. That’s what aggressive, skilled politicians do.
Duggan’s campaign pratfall recalls that of Thaddeus McCotter, the former U.S. representative from Livonia, who seemed headed for effortless re-election until the Michigan attorney seneral charged his campaign with forging petition signatures. Last month a McCotter aide pleaded no contest to two counts of petition fraud.
McCotter, who in 2011 entertained an idea of seeking the GOP presidential nomination, resigned in disgrace. A special election cost voters in his district $650,000. No one demonstrated that McCotter had a hand in the fraud, but he was in charge and bore responsibility.
The fiasco of Duggan’s campaign makes an odds-on favorite of Benny Napoleon, the Wayne County sheriff. Whatever Napoleon’s assets and liabilities, he surely won’t come to office without an appreciation of the law.
Duggan’s decision to bow out means that he has embraced reality and limited further damage. This isn’t his political epitaph. Duggan may fight for political office another day. If there is a next time, he surely will nitpick the tricky details of campaigning more carefully.