What Dave Bing Should Have Said In The State Of The City Address

February 13, 2013, 4:15 PM

DaveMayor Dave Bing doesn't ask for my opinion, so let me be clear up front: The words below are not Dave Bing's. They are mine and mine alone. However, if Mayor Bing asked me to draft a State of the City address for him, this is how it would read.

Members of City Council, honored guests, my fellow Detroiters, good evening.

Our city is perched—has been perched for some time—on the precipice of calamity.

Our police department lacks the manpower and resources to answer our citizens' calls. Our streetlights don’t work. Our schools can barely maintain the illusion they’re educating our students. We can only pity the humble janitor who must wait in the cold and rain for a bus that may or may not arrive. But for the most spectacular accounting tricks and 11th-hour concessions, we wouldn’t be able to meet our public payroll.

To stand before you tonight and say that, despite our challenges, the state of city is strong would be an obscenity that borders on professional malfeasance. To be sure, it would be no great trick for a speechwriter to craft an applause line in which I say that Detroit is strong because our citizens are resilient. But that would be dishonest.

The hard truth is politicians have stood at podiums like this and used the resilience of Detroiters to prop up a status quo that fails those very Detroiters in every way.

Four years ago this May, I was elected as your mayor. I promised a fresh start and a new direction.

To the extent that my administration has distanced Detroit from the clumsy corruption of the Kilpatrick Enterprise, we’ve given this city something of a fresh start. However, 'to not be the subject of a federal racketeering investigation' is a very low bar indeed.

It’s cold comfort for the 700,000 Detroiters living in a city where the quality of life continues to decline.

Despite our best efforts—and I can say, if nothing else, my administration’s commitment and dedication cannot be questioned—the city remains on its same downward trajectory.

Even our downtown and midtown communities that have benefited from a flood of new investments and new energy are not immune to the harsh realities of a city that is unable to police its streets or keep the lights on.

My administration’s efforts to achieve even the most basic of reforms have been stymied by a combination of political opposition, institutional myopia, and, yes, ever our own strategic missteps. I won’t point fingers at anyone else without also accepting my share of the blame.

If Council President Pugh or mayoral candidate Mike Duggan or anyone else thinks Detroit doesn't have a better use for the $6 million we currently pay to poorly maintain Belle Isle, I won’t quibble. And if anyone thinks they can, with Detroit’s “junk bond” credit rating, float the $100-$200 million in general obligation bonds necessary to fund rebuilding the island, then they are welcome to make their pitch to Wall Street.

In a few months, someone else will be free to try just that because I will not seek another term.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not quitting. There are ten months left in my term and I expect to use that time to make hay while the sun shines.

But if I am to accomplish anything in these next few months, then I can’t risk having opponents attack my agenda because they’re trying to undermine me as a candidate. Detroit can't afford to let any good idea sit on the shelf for ten months because of political expediency. 

I’ll leave it to my fellow Detroiters to decide who should replace me, but for right now I’m here to work with anyone and everyone committed to advancing an agenda that will improve this city.

Any mayoral candidate that wishes to work with my administration on specific issues is welcome—just know your potential opponents may be at the table with you. I intend to play no favorites.

And if you wish to oppose my administration’s work over these next months, then know this: You will have to own your positions. No one will believe your opposition is some Machiavellian maneuver to weaken an opponent. I’m no longer your political rival.

To that end, the Future City plan produced by Detroit Works Project lays out a remarkable and unprecedented blueprint for creating a functioning, sustainable Detroit for our children and grandchildren.

We must begin implementing their recommendations with an urgency befitting the crisis facing our city. Specifically, as a start, that means revising zoning codes and building on our side lot program that has allowed residents to purchase vacant properties in their neighborhoods.

City government owns thousands of parcels across Detroit that we can’t afford to maintain or develop. If a neighbor or community organization can, then by all means we should let them. And thank them for doing their part to make Detroit better.

I’m also committed to working with the Police Commission and City Council and virtually anyone else to recruit the best available police chief and leadership team to help this department create a city that is safer for all residents.

Let’s be clear: When the murder rate is at an historic high, when Detroiters can’t safely get gas at night, when a one-person crime wave can terrorize a neighborhood, there will never be a recovery of any kind for any part of this city.

Whether or not, Governor Snyder decides to appoint an emergency manager is, sadly, out of our hands at this point. Until he makes that decision, however, we all must do more to find solutions to Detroit’s ongoing fiscal crisis.

It’s time—perhaps it’s past time—for my administration and leaders from City Council to sit down and work collaboratively on fixing this problem. We must identify the budgetary priorities that will have the greatest impact for the greatest number of Detroiters. All ideas should be on the table.

I can’t promise miracles over the next ten months, nor can I rewind the tape and fix the mistakes we’ve made in the past, but tonight I make you this promise: My administration has the rest of 2013 to ensure we leave Detroit better, in some substantive way, than we found it. I intend to do everything in my power, and will work with any willing partner, to make that happen.

In the end, this isn’t about me or my administration’s legacy or City Council or anyone’s aspirations. The only thing that matters is affecting change so that one day a future Detroit mayor can stand at a podium like this and say, honestly, that the state of this city is strong.

Thank you and good night.

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