The November Campaign Began This Week For Napoleon And Duggan

The general-election campaign for mayor of Detroit basically began this week with back-to-back appearances by Benny Napoleon (Wednesday) and Mike Duggan (Tuesday). 

And judging by the performances, the differences between the two finalists are vast. Detroiters clearly are going to be faced with an unambiguous choice Nov. 5, even though the mayoral election this year is clouded by the presence of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Detroit's bankruptcy case.

Napoleon, the Wayne County Sheriff, announced his appearance at Fellowship Chapel on W. Outer Drive Wednesday afternoon after Duggan, the former CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, had scheduled a presentation of his neighborhood redevelopment strategy for Tuesday.

Among Napoleon’s themes Wednesday was the idea that 40 years of investment and tax breaks for businesses downtown have resulted in a resurgent Central Business District but struggling neighborhoods across the rest of Detroit.

“We have attempted to rebuild Detroit from a corporate and visitors’ perspective and have left our neighborhoods to fend for themselves,” Napoleon said, speaking to about 50 community leaders and clergy, including a giant in the Detroit religious community, the Rev. Charles Adams of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church.

Napoleon acknowledged the strategy has produced jobs downtown, but, he said, “These jobs are going to people who have never lived in this city and who are not moving into any of our core neighborhoods, unless you live in Corktown, Midtown or downtown.”

He added: “These CEOS and senior VPs do not live in Detroit. None of them live Detroit’s neighborhood experience. Their Detroit experience begins and ends with how well downtown is doing. This is not a criticism. This is a just a reality.”

Yet Napoleon’s stand against the downtown-centric policy of the past few mayors is criticism, and it is

criticism that has been an undercurrent of Detroit politics since the early 1980s, when, among others, the late Mel Ravitz, a longtime city councilman and a Wayne State University sociology professor, argued Detroit should be spending money on improving its bus fleet and police force rather than leveling the Poletown neighborhood for an auto assembly plant and giving General Motors huge tax breaks.

Napoleon noted, accurately, that Duggan received large campaign donations from the corporate leaders downtown.

And the sheriff stressed that when he stands up for neighborhoods and knocks the emphasis on downtown development he is not race-baiting, because Detroit’s neighborhoods are home to a diverse population.

That might be more truthiness than truth. While Napoleon is correct that some leaders confuse the growing health of downtown with the well-being of Detroit as a whole, it is also fair to interpret his comments as a divisive dog whistle because Detroit’s corporate leaders are overwhelmingly white, and many of the newcomers in downtown neighborhoods are white, and most of the residents of Detroit’s outer neighborhoods are black.

Napoleon’s message resonates with Detroiters who feel aggrieved that the city, with the state-appointed Orr, is being run by outsiders and beholden to a federal bankruptcy judge. Napoleon does not believe the emergency manager was legally put in place.

In any case, Napoleon can’t escape the fact that he is making the us-vs.-them strategy a significant part of his campaign platform. The jobs go to other people, he says, the corporate leaders don’t live with us. If you live downtown or in Corktown, that’s not really Detroit, a remark that echoes the comment he made earlier this year that Duggan’s Palmer Woods neighborhood “is not Detroit.”

Duggan’s policies are open to dissection on any number of fronts, but he has not been divisive; he constantly emphasizes Detroit is for everyone and says the “us-vs.-them rhetoric has not served the city well.”  

Napoleon flirted with truthiness at other times Wednesday.

He asked audience members if they know anyone who has received a job downtown. No one spoke up, which strained credulity. What are the odds a roomful of middle-class Detroiters knows no one who works in the tens of thousands of government and private jobs in Midtown or downtown?

Napoleon charged Duggan did not start talking about neighborhoods until Tuesday. That also strains credulity.

In fact, that’s entirely false. Duggan kicked off his campaign Feb. 26 – a month before Napoleon officially entered the race – and he spoke in front of a huge banner that was emblazoned with his slogan: “Every neighborhood has a future," left.

Duggan’s speech is available on line. He starts discussing saving neighborhoods at the :34 mark of the 18-minute address. 

What seemed most striking about Napoleon’s speech Wednesday was that even after a months-long primary campaign, it contained virtually no specifics. He said a detailed program would be rolled out in the coming weeks.

He talks about improving Detroit one square mile at a time, but when asked about the initiatives he would use, he responded, “We need to challenge people to take care of their own backyards.”

In Duggan’s presentation Tuesday, before more than 300 people, he talked for more than an hour without notes, setting out a 10-point plan, with overwhelming minutiae, on how he would turn around city neighborhoods.

If anything, Duggan provides too much detail.

When an audience member mentioned the problem of squatters, Duggan proceeded to describe “three classes of squatters:” Those who are committing illegal acts and should be arrested; those who are truly homeless, who should be treated compassionately; and those who started out as legal tenants but somehow lost their legal right to the house. They should be given a chance to keep the home, he said.

Napoleon appears to be doubling down on his strategy in the primary. But that strategy did not work well. Duggan, even as a write-in vote, defeated Napoleon handily. In a field of 14 candidates, Napoleon won only about three dozen of the city’s 614 precincts.

But the dynamics of the November election are different. More people will vote and there are only two candidates.

It might help that Napoleon has God on his side. 

He talked Wednesday about how a fellow student held a gun to his head on the last day of ninth grade. The student later went to prison for murder.

“God spared me for a reason,” Napoleon said. “I believe that is the reason is why I’m here today. God had a plan for me. This is his plan.”















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