Traverse City Record-Eagle

Op-Ed Columns

November 17, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: Desperate times call for Duggan?

By now, everyone knows that the black voters of the nation’s most troubled city decisively elected a white mayor this month. What nobody knows is what happens next.

Possibly the most stunning thing about Mike Duggan’s victory is that he isn’t a man of great charisma. Irish he is. John F. Kennedy he is not. Nor is he a much-loved native Detroiter. A longtime Livonia resident, the short, balding, 55-year-old political fixture - and fixer - moved into the city earlier last year, clearly just to run for mayor.

Five years ago, his candidacy would have been seen as unimaginable. But things are desperate in the Motor City, and not just because a state-appointed emergency manager is in charge and the city is in the process of applying for bankruptcy protection.

City services are abysmal, even by Third-World standards. Forty percent - or more - of the street lights never come on.

Police take, on average, 58 minutes to respond to homicide calls. One woman, a professor at Wayne State University, was bitten savagely this summer by a neighbor’s dog. She called the city animal control department, which sent an officer. Eleven days later.

Reni Gresham, a 65-year-old secretary who was recently laid off due to state budget cuts, may have been typical of those voting for Duggan. “We blacks have been running the city for 40 years. Now we need someone who can get things done.”

Indeed, making things done is Duggan’s reputation - and probably why he got elected. Though he has never dealt with trains, he can claim that he made the buses run on time - in the suburbs, that is, where he straightened out the finances of the SMART bus system in the early 1990s. For years, he was also deputy county executive in Wayne County, which includes the city of Detroit.

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