4:23am

Sat November 9, 2013
Commentary

Many Rooting For Down-On-Its-Luck Detroit And Its New Mayor

Originally published on Sat November 9, 2013 5:55 pm

Detroit is a place where I worked for many years as a journalist, where I absorbed the town's rich automotive, labor and civil rights history, where I sat in blues clubs and watched baseball from the upper deck of old Tiger Stadium.

It's a place that I really think of as home.

Detroit elected a new mayor this week.

He is 55-year-old Mike Duggan, a longtime county official, and later a successful CEO of the region's leading medical center.

But one might reasonably ask why someone — anyone — would want the job of mayor of Detroit.

The outgoing mayor is Dave Bing, a good man with an impressive resume: longtime owner of a successful steel business, and before that, Hall of Fame guard for the Detroit Pistons. But in just over four years as mayor, the city's problems remained so huge that he oversaw declining services, shrinking population, block after block of vacant lots overgrown with weeds, urban ruins. All of which has provided a tempting backdrop for news photographers from around the world.

Detroit's dire financial situation eventually led the state's Republican governor to appoint an emergency manager who's now in control. This past summer, Detroit filed for bankruptcy.

The previous mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was forced from office in a corruption scandal. He's now in federal prison.

So enter Mike Duggan, a politician with a personality both hard-charging and pugnacious.

Some say it's notable that he's the city's first white mayor in four decades. But Duggan, running against an African-American opponent, won 55 percent of the vote in a city that is 80 percent African-American.

Race has certainly been a major issue in the city, political and otherwise, for decades. Duggan says he he expects to be judged on the job he does.

Elections are seen as a chance at a fresh start. There's often a honeymoon and a sense of optimism.

Duggan will not likely get to enjoy any of those things.

But Detroit is a place with a deep and rich history, home to some of the most joyous music ever to come out of your radio.

And there are a lot of people, in the city and elsewhere, who are pulling for Detroit.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DON GONYEA, HOST:

Detroit is a place where I worked for many years as a journalist, where I absorbed the town's rich automotive and labor and civil rights history; where I sat in blues clubs and watched baseball from the upper deck of old Tiger Stadium. And it's a place that I still consider home.

Detroit elected a new mayor this week. He is 55-year-old Mike Duggan, a longtime county official and later, a successful CEO of the region's leading medical center. But one might reasonably ask why someone - anyone - would want the job of mayor of Detroit.

The outgoing mayor is Dave Bing, a good man with an impressive resume, a longtime owner of a successful steel business. Before that, Mr. Bing was a Hall of Fame guard for the Detroit Pistons. But he inherited a very troubled city. In just over four years, this city's problems remained so huge that he oversaw declining services; shrinking population; block after block of vacant lots, many overgrown with weeds - urban ruins, really - all of which provided a very tempting backdrop for news photographers from around the world. The previous mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was forced from office in a corruption scandal. He is now in federal prison.

Detroit's dire financial situation eventually led the state's Republican governor to appoint an emergency manager, who's now in control. This past summer, the city filed for bankruptcy. So enter the new mayor, Mike Duggan, a politician with a personality both hard-charging and more than a little pugnacious. Some say it's notable that he is the city's first white mayor in four decades. But Duggan, running against an African-American opponent, captured 55 percent of the vote in a city that is 80 percent African-American. Turnout was low. Race has certainly been a major issue in the city - political and otherwise - for decades. Duggan says he expects to be judged on the job he does.

Elections are seen as a chance at a fresh start. There's often a honeymoon, and a sense of optimism. Mike Duggan will not likely get to enjoy either of those things. But Detroit is a place with a deep and rich history, home to some of the most joyous music ever to come out of your radio. And there are a lot of people - in the city, and around the country - who are pulling for things to maybe, finally, start getting better.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH")

TAMMI TERRELL, MARVIN GAYE: (Singing) If you need me, call me, no matter where you are, no matter how far. Don't worry, baby. Just call my name, I'll be there in a hurry, you don't have to worry. Oh, baby, ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough to keep me from getting to you, babe...

GONYEA: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.