Detroit, the nation's largest city to ever seek bankruptcy protection, holds municipal elections Tuesday with 16 mayoral and 54 city council candidates squaring off in a citywide primary election.
Whoever is selected as the city's new leader will be a limited-power mayor, at least for a while, as city control currently rests in the hands of emergency financial manager Kevyn Orr, who was hand-picked by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to oversee the city's painful restructuring of $18 billion in debt, including $9.2 billion in unfunded pension and health benefits.
Outgoing mayor Dave Bing is not seeking re-election and the two top mayoral candidates will square off in November.
Among the top contenders seeking the mayor's office is Mike Duggan, a former CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, who was forced to run as a write-in candidate after wrangling over whether or not he met city election residency requirements. Opponents sought to keep the popular business leader out of the race.
Duggan, who has been endorsed by the Detroit Free Press
as well as the leaders of a coalition of 150 city businesses, is leading in the latest polls along with Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, according to a survey of 500 likely Detroit voters conducted last week by Michigan Information and Research Service in Lansing, Mich. Of those polled, 40 percent said they would pick a write-in candidate.
Duggan, who would became the city's first white mayor since 1974 if he wins, earned much of his financial support from business leaders including billionaire Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans, who has invested millions into a commercial real estate portfolio in downtown Detroit, hoping to revitalize its business climate and energize its city center.
Wrote the Free Press, citing Duggan's business turnaround expertise in its endorsement: "Unlike other business candidates who vow to institute good budgets and best practices but run aground on politics, Duggan evinces a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of politics and policy that’s rare in southeast Michigan. He clearly understands how to get things done. He has a good relationship with Lansing — it's important to remember that whatever the outcome of the mayoral election, whether the emergency manager stays or goes, the state will play an active role in Detroit for years to come."
Napoleon, a former and popular Detroit police chief, has received solid support from several key union groups including the 100,000-member Metro Detroit AFL-CIO. He has been an outspoken critic of Orr.
United Auto Workers President Bob King, in endorsing Napoleon, called him a friend of working people.
"He has stood up for workers and fought for their right to collective bargaining. We need a mayor in Detroit who cares about the working and retired people in this city, especially as Detroit goes through restructuring, King said in a statement released last Friday.
"Benny has longstanding relationships with all sectors of the Detroit community, including elected, community, business, religious and labor leaders, and he will use those relationships to bring constituents together to find fair solutions to Detroit problems," King said. "Benny understands that the hardworking people of Detroit can't be sacrificed to please Detroit's debt holders."
Duggan is also facing off against Mike Dugeon, a Detroit barber, setting up what some fear is a voter spelling quandary akin to the 2000 Florida "hanging chad" debacle that would send questionably spelled ballots to the Wayne County Board of Canvassers for a review. Some fear a court challenge over spelling.
Thus far, barber Dugeon's biggest headline was last week when news broke that he'd been carjacked outside of a city liquor store, a robbery caught on videotape.
Of the fears of a spelling disaster with a write-in candidate on the ballot, state Sen. Tupac Hunter told MLive.com
political columnist Tim Skubick that Detroiters would get it right. Hunter is supporting Duggan – not Dugeon.
"Detroiters are intelligent. Detroiters can spell. We've done a great job of educating voters in terms of the write-in ballot. So I’m not cynical enough to think that this is going to be this huge disaster because somehow Detroit just can't get it,” Hunter said.
In the city council race, 54 candidates are on the ballot for nine seats to serve four-year terms. This year is different, however, as only two of the nine seats are at-large with the rest open to voters within seven newly drawn districts.
The city has suffered financial collapse over the years amid multiple government scandals that have garnered plenty of negative headlines in recent years.
The city's former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick sits in prison awaiting sentencing next month on corruption charges just as authorities determine how the city will sort out its massive debts and honor pension benefits for thousands of city workers.
As the city bails out of its financial crisis, it must also fight a PR battle over image. Conde Nast Traveler magazine put Detroit on its Top 10 unfriendly cities in the world list, ranking it No. 8
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