The Two Biggest Myths In Detroit Politics Today Involve Duggan and Bing

November 12, 2012, 3:43 PM by  Bill McGraw

Two of the biggest myths in Detroit politics are that Mike Duggan might not run for mayor and that Dave Bing might run.

Duggan says he is visiting residents in small groups in a Hilary Clinton-like listening tour. And he told my colleague Jeff Wattrick in an interview that fundraising is going well and no one seems to care that he’s white. Duggan announced last week that he will resign as CEO of the Detroit Medical Center and says he will make a decision about running in a few weeks. Right.

Mayor Bing has refused to say whether he is going to run for a second term, but with the mayoral election a year away, Bing seems to be pretty much a clandestine lame duck.

He can’t announce his intention to retire with the filing deadline still more than six months away, but the job, by his own admission, has overwhelmed him, and it has seemingly drained every bit of joy from his soul. It is almost certain he won’t run again. He will be 69 Nov. 24, and he has endured serious health problems.

Moreover, if he runs, he will probably lose. In an in-depth poll by the Detroit News in September, 82 percent said Bing did not deserve to be re-elected.

Bing was on TV late last week. He looked tired and tentative as he announced changes in assistant chiefs in the supremely messed-up Detroit Police Department.

But there was a problem. Bing forgot to do something.

For some reason he failed to clear the moves with the Board of Police Commissioners, which has oversight on the department. The board refused to approve the appointments at its meeting Thursday, so Bing had to go talk to the board’s chairman on Friday.

A similar thing happened to Bing’s vaunted plan to fix Detroit’s street lights a couple of months ago. It took Bing nearly three years in office to finally get around to a serious approach to the metastasizing lighting crisis, one of the issues that most angers residents, puts neighborhood safety at risk and gives Detroit a post-apocalyptic vibe.

He held a news conference and announced his plan to fix the lights. But he failed to do the political groundwork. The plan requires the state legislature to vote to form a lighting authority. And that vote isn’t anywhere near a priority for Lansing.

The Bing administration took another hit late last week when Chris Brown resigned. He was the Bing’s chief operations officer and the aide who was quarterbacking the city’s attempts to avoid bankruptcy.

And bankruptcy is not out of the question. With the city‘s cash reserves dwindling, city officials warned the Financial Advisory Board Monday that Detroit could run out of money by next month.

Further complicating the financial picture is the repeal by voters last week of Public Act 4, which has city officials trying to figure out how to proceed with the city’s consent agreement with the state. And making things even more chaotic was Detroit voters’ approval of Proposal C, which allows the city’s corporation counsels – currently Krystal Crittendon – to act independently of the mayor and city council when they see a violation in the city charter. 

Bing can’t be blamed for the repeal of Public Act 4. But he is not blameless when it comes to Crittendon.

Until the new charter, the corporation counsel worked for the mayor. The changes in her powers are contained in the city charter that voters approved last November and took effect Jan. 1, 20102. Now the corporation counsel can’t be fired without the approval of six members of the nine-member city council. 

Wouldn’t a crafty and forward-thinking politician have figured out in advance that Crittendon wasn’t going to be a team player and fired her by Dec. 31, when the mayor still had the power to get rid of her unilaterally? It is difficult to imagine a mayor like, say, Michael Bloomberg in New York getting caught in a similar jam.

Brown’s departure was the latest in a long list of high-ranking city hall officials who have jumped ship. Bing is on his fifth fire commissioner and will soon have his fourth police chief, for example.

The most recent chief, Ralph Godbee, resigned when a messy affair came to light when his mistress – a Detroit cop and member of the internal affairs section – circulated on social media a photo that showed a gun in her mouth. Bing had decided to appoint Godbee even after evidence arose that he had engaged in an earlier affair with another subordinate.

It’s unclear if Duggan is the answer. In some ways, he’s like Bing: A longtime and well-known suburbanite who, after working in Detroit for decades, moves into the city to run for mayor and receives a large amount of attention. 

Now’s there’s speculation on how long it will be after Bing leaves office before he moves out of the city.

In other ways, Duggan couldn’t be more different than Bing. Duggan’s resume includes top positions in challenging jobs in government, mass transportation, law enforcement and health care. He seems to understand how power and politics work. Observers have called him smart and ruthless, which are not bad qualities in a mayor.

There are other candidates. State Rep. Lisa Howze announced months ago that she is running. Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, and the top two vote-getters on the Detroit City Council, Charles Pugh and Gary Brown, could also run.

Would any of them at least be able to find a police chief whose mistresses don’t tweet photos of themselves with guns in their mouths? That would be a start.

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