There was something a little poignant about Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s annual state of the city address last week.
“Despite the naysayers’ predictions, there have not been any payless paydays. No emergency manager — to date. And no declaration of bankruptcy for the city of Detroit,” he said.
He had to know, of course, that an emergency manager, and probably bankruptcy, are almost certainly coming.
This was, quite likely, his last such speech. The mayor has not said whether he plans to seek re-election. If he does, he may well not win. But what does seem clear is that the city is almost certain to be under an all-powerful emergency manager soon, which means any mayor will be a mere figurehead.
This year, Bing did all he could to put the best face on what he has managed to do. The city has, he said, torn down 6,700 vacant and derelict structures. What he didn‘t say is that there are tens of thousands more that need the wrecking ball.
He did proudly mention that the Cobo Center, Detroit’s main convention center, has been successfully renovated. There will be a new police headquarters, the mayor said, and yet another “crime reduction strategy,” though no more cops.
And the Legislature, the mayor added, has just agreed to create a public lighting authority that will hopefully invest the money needed to make Detroit’s ancient street lights come on again.
Yet he had to know it was all too little, too late. His speech was, in a sense, a letter to history written by a good and decent man who, whatever his limitations, was faced with a mess that it’s hard to think that any elected leader could ever handle - even if not faced with a city council that seemed determined to ignore reality.