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Detroit mayor’s race takes a turn

In four weeks, Detroit will choose a new mayor. Some people are saying this is a fairly meaningless exercise. After all, everything is now controlled by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.  Orr, and Federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes.

But within a year, city council will regain the power to take back control of Detroit for itself and the mayor. By that time, or soon after, the bankruptcy too should be over. So who the mayor is and what he does will matter -- perhaps more than ever.

This already has been one of the most stunning elections in Detroit history. Mike Duggan, a white politician who has lived mostly in Livonia, moved back to Detroit to run for mayor last year. When he was kicked off the primary ballot due to a technicality, he launched a write-in campaign.

Few gave him much chance at first. But he won by a landslide. Though there were fourteen names on the ballot, a majority if everyone who voted wrote in Mike Duggan’s name.

Four weeks from now, the voters will chose between Duggan and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, a cheerful, likeable man who was once the city’s top cop.

Though Duggan beat him in the primary, general elections are different. Ask Freman Hendrix, who eight years ago scored a solid primary win only to be beaten by Kwame Kilpatrick in November.

But something happened yesterday that may make the choice a lot easier. Elections should be about competing visions of the future.  Napoleon has now done two things that made it clear his campaign is a blast from the past.

First, he asked Krystal Crittendon to be his deputy mayor if he wins. Crittendon is the city’s former corporation counsel who played havoc with Mayor Dave Bing’s desperate attempts to stave off state control and bankruptcy through a consent agreement.

She aligned herself with those who stubbornly refused to recognize reality, who claimed no “outsiders” could have anything to say about Detroit and Detroiters, except perhaps to give city leaders money with no strings attached.

She said the consent agreement was illegal, and had to be slapped down again and again by judicial rulings, before city council at last allowed the mayor to fire her.

Having obstructed attempts to deal with reality as long as she could, Crittendon then ran for mayor, but got barely five percent of the vote. That Napoleon wants her to help run the city speaks volumes.

Napoleon did something else last night. He announced a more than three billion dollar “neighborhood revitalization plan” that would include seven major new shopping centers. The fact that there is no money to build them, and no realistic prospect that there ever will be any, didn’t seem to bother him at all.

The sheriff also said he was going to get Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun to turn the wreck of the abandoned train station into a retail, residential and entertainment complex. It would be more realistic to promise every child a pony.

There’s nothing wrong with big dreams. But Detroit today is paying a horrible price for decades of failing to face reality. Recovery has to start with leadership that will tell the people the truth.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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