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Duggan’s Detroit mayoralty: The start of something big, or just a start?

Crime is one of Detroit’s most stubborn problems, but police are making a show of force with targeted raids on trouble spots. (Photo by Flickr user Sean Davis; used under Creative Commons license)

Crime is one of Detroit’s most stubborn problems, but police are making a show of force with targeted raids on trouble spots. (Photo by Flickr user Sean Davis; used under Creative Commons license)

During his state of the city address Mayor Mike Duggan told Detroiters that the city will turn around quickly. Emergency manager Kevyn Orr said the same thing a few weeks earlier.
It can’t come soon enough for me.

Neither of them said exactly what “quickly” would be. Or what defines a turnaround. Orr could be talking smack because he isn’t going to be around long enough to back it up, but Duggan, well he can’t talk smack because he’s got to hang in there for four years. If folks get the sense that he is serving up a bunch of bologna it’s going to be a long four years.

Duggan already put himself under the gun at his inauguration by telling Detroiters who are considering abandoning the city to give him six months to make things better. Then he doubled down in saying that by 2017 Detroit’s population will be growing. That’s gutsy; we’re talking about reversing a 60-year trend that has drained some 1.3 million residents.

We’re already about a third of the way through that six month period. So far Duggan has assembled a fairly impressive team. Former Police Chief Ike McKinnon is deputy mayor and former state Rep. Lisa Howze is his chief of staff. Attorney Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, the former insurance consumer advocate for the state of Michigan, is corporation counsel for the city.

Charles Beckham, who worked for Coleman Young and every mayor since, has the helm of the newly created Department of Neighborhoods. F. Thomas Lewand, former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, is in charge of jobs and economic growth. There are plenty of others.

If Detroit can indeed be turned around quickly, this is the bunch to do it.

For instance, Duggan has pledged to investigate creating D-Insurance, a city insurance company to bring down auto insurance rates. Detroiters pay about twice as much for auto insurance as suburbanites. Hollowell is probably a good choice as counsel in this area given his experience as insurance consumer advocate. This issue is near and dear to the hearts of Detroiters and if Duggan can bring those costs down it would instantly make him a local hero. Insurance rates are a burdensome additional tax on city dwellers.

Speaking of taxes, Duggan has also promised to lower the property tax assessments from 5 to 20 percent in time for summer payments. He’s showing that he knows the concerns of homeowners.

Capably delivering services seems a priority. The administration has already started replacing street lights. Duggan declared that about half of the city will be relit by the end of 2014 and the rest will be done by the end of 2015. That isn’t a hallelujah moment but if he can achieve things he promises and in the time frame that he projects it builds trust and displays competence. Similarly he told Detroiters there will be better bus service this fall, more emergency medical technicians hired and new vehicles on hand this summer. And the renovation or removal of blighted structures is on the schedule too.

Step-by-step achievement of stated goals beats big promises that are never attained any day.

Duggan did not say much about two of the biggest problems in Detroit: crime and the lack of jobs. Police issues are not his responsibility until Orr turns the reins over to Duggan. In the meantime Police Chief James Craig, an Orr appointee, has been conducting a series of high volume, high profile raids on hives of criminal activity in apartment buildings and neighborhoods.

And jobs are a piecemeal issue as small enterprises develop. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that as of March 2013 there were about 2,000 more jobs in Detroit than there were in 2010. That’s not a lot but it at least has reverses the trend of job loss. Duggan says he will support an entrepreneurial spirit so young people will become job creators.

The city may turn around quickly, though that just means changing our direction. It doesn’t guarantee that any real progress will be attained in the short term. The next steps taken will be vitally important. However, Duggan’s methodical, one-step-at-a-time approach looks like a good start for a long and fruitful journey.

Larry Gabriel is a freelance Detroit Metro Times contributor who was named Best Columnist by the Association for Alternative Newsmedia in 2012. He believes there is wisdom in blues lyrics and that the best brunch is poached salmon, scrambled eggs and avocado. The views and assertions of guest columnists do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

5 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. ***

    Real progress isn’t going to be measured by the number of street lights working. Education, crime, lack of opportunity and the attitudes of poverty stricken people living in Detroit are all going to have to change for real progress to be made.

  2. William C. Plumpe

    Let’s not unknowingly sabotage the Mayor and expect too much too soon. Besides I’ve always thought that “multi-tasking” is an excuse for those who can’t prioritize. Pick two or three things like streetlights, abandoned homes and the bankruptcy to get done in the first year. Do not try to do too much too soon. And I disagree. Be sure to get some solid, definite measurable things done and done well. Keep the longer term “softer” more attitudinal stuff on the radar screen but do not bite off more than you can chew. Get something done as soon as reasonably possible. As a citizen of Detroit I want to see results not long term promises. Enough said.

  3. John Dorsey

    Mayor Duggan’s confidence is contagious and his aggressive approach to solving Detroit’s problems is a breath of fresh air after years of fits and starts, squabbling and excuses.

  4. dale westrick

    Years ago my wife asked me why was so down on Detroit my answer was it was once a great city and now it is not. That was long before it really got bad. but you could already see the direction it was going. It is going to take leadership to reverse the city hopefully that will happen sooner than later.The elected official need to be held accountable for their decisions but the residents need to support then and provide their suggestions for improvements. . .
    Dale Westrick
    Keep up the good work!!!

  5. John S.

    Perhaps the best performance measure (a measure of outcome) is change in the size of Detroit’s middle class population. There’s little or no chance of a city turnaround unless the bleeding is stopped and the city once more becomes generally attractive to the middle class. The city has a lot to offer, but for middle class residents is too expensive relative to other metropolitan communities. The reasons are well known: high property tax millage (67.07), properties assessed well above their true market value, high property insurance, high auto insurance, the resident income tax (for those working in the city), and for some middle class families the cost of sending children to private/parochial schools. Crime is a big problem, but over time has generally been trending downward. Blight is also a problem, but unless population loss is stopped, there will just be more blight down the road. It helps to understand the problems before jumping to “solutions.”

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