Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s demolition program has come with a return on investment of sorts: Since 2013, when federal funds were first set aside for demolitions in the city, the mayor has seen his campaign coffers infused with tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from contractors selected to participate in the program.
Duggan collected more than $45,000 from demolition contractors and their employees through his 2017 re-election bid. Contributions went to his campaign and a nonprofit supporting mayoral activity.
“Citizens and voters ought to be wondering what kind of consideration is given for contributions like that,” Michigan Campaign Finance Network board member Rich Robinson told Metro Times in a 2017 report on demo contributions to Duggan. "I don't think donors give money for selfless reasons. You have to ask what the real interest is.”
The money could keep pouring in should city council and voters agree to the mayor’s proposed $250 million bond to keep up the pace of current demolitions as federal money for the program dries up.
Council is due to vote Tuesday on whether to advance the millage to the March ballot, but the Friday release of a scathing audit could raise more questions before a final decision is made.
The biggest demolition donors to Duggan tended to be from those who received the most work. Rickman Enterprise Group’s CEO, Roderick Rickman, and sub-contractor Todd Demand gave the Duggan campaign a total of more than $10,000 in 2016. Now-deceased Adamo executive John Adamo contributed $5,600 between 2013 and 2015. Both companies are among the top five recipients of federal and local demolition dollars, earning $29.8 million and $57.3 million, respectively, since 2014.
Two former Adamo officials were recently each sentenced to a year in prison for taking bribes while rigging bids.
MCM Management Corp., meanwhile, was the top contributor to Duggan. Its executives, Robert and David Mardigan, donated approximately $12,300 in 2013 and 2014, before they began a several-month demo blitz for which they were paid $4.4 million. That was the extent of their work in the city.
The company gave an additional $3,000 to the nonprofit Detroit Progress Fund linked to Duggan, which pays for activities supporting his office — like a recent questionable breakfast meeting in which a city official strongly urged select residents to advocate for the bond before council. The final direct contribution from an MCM executive came in December of 2014 — the same day the city announced the second round of federal money for blight elimination.
Jenkins Construction executives were also among the top donors to Duggan — giving $12,000, between 2013 and 2015 — but only received $10,000 in demolition work during that time. The company has previously held at least one other city contract.
The Duggan administration has always insisted contributions have not influenced contracts or policy decisions like the bond issue.
“The mayor hears from residents almost every day who live in these neighborhoods who want to know when the vacant house next to them will be torn down,” said mayoral spokesman John Roach. “That’s his motivation for the bond program.”
Though the contributions on their own represent just a portion of Duggan’s war chest — he raised about $2 million for his last mayoral bid — they’re significant when compared with how much he’s pulled from average Detroiters. In the nine months before the 2017 primary, for example, Detroit residents gave Duggan just $54,000, with the lion's share of the rest of the contributions coming from businesses, according to an analysis by Crain’s.
Duggan’s bond proposal would require Detroit property owners to pay an average $57 a year over the next 30 years, based on the average home value of $19,000. The bond would help eliminate what officials say are a remaining 19,000 abandoned houses by 2025.
Detroit’s Auditor General on Friday reported that the program, which has taken down about 19,000 houses thus far, failed to comply with rules and lacks sufficient oversight. The report was initiated two years ago.
Jack Thomas contributed to this report.