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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is looking for a third term. Will he find it next Tuesday?

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
An undated file photo of Mayor Mike Duggan.

Detroit has a mayoral election on Tuesday. Two-term incumbent Mike Duggan is being challenged by Anthony Adams, the city’s former deputy mayor.

Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek is following the race, and spoke with Morning Edition’s Doug Tribou about it.

Q: Duggan won his first term in 2013, when the city was still in bankruptcy and under emergency management. How does the city look now compared to then?

Duggan has gotten the city out from under state financial oversight, and the city’s finances are in much better shape, though there are still some issues there. That financial improvement has allowed Detroit to re-invest in core city services, and there have been some significant improvements in that regard.

Duggan has largely been acting like he has the race locked down, but when he has campaigned, these are the kinds of things he likes to talk about: Getting the streetlights on, clearing blight (his administration’s demolition program has taken down more than 20,000 blighted homes, though it’s not been without controversy), improving parks, and bringing some manufacturing facilities and jobs back to Detroit.

Q: Detroit’s mayoral candidates aren’t listed by party and the top two candidates in the primary advance to the election. Is Duggan vulnerable against Adams this time around?

Duggan won the August primary by taking home 72% of the vote, compared to Adams’ 10%. But the city still faces a lot of challenges, and those are the types of things Anthony Adams is talking about.

Adams is well-known in Detroit political circles, and has served in a variety of city positions including deputy mayor for decades, but most Detroiters probably don’t know his name. He’s been talking about some of Detroit’s more chronic issues that some feel Duggan hasn’t paid enough attention to: things like generational poverty, affordable and substandard housing,and ongoing racial inequities.

Duggan has refused to debate Adams, saying his campaign is “negative” for talking about these things. That might be a smart political move, but it’s opened Duggan up to criticism that he’s evading some of these tough conversations, and leaves even some of his supporters feeling a little sour.

Anthony Adams
Anthony Adams

Donna Givens Davidson, president of Detroit’s Eastside Community Network, said it sends a larger signal about Duggan’s priorities. “Whenever somebody brings up race and poverty, the response is ‘that’s divisive,’” Davidson said. “What that tells is that they are not wanting to deal with or confront real inequities.”

Q: What are Detroiters talking about right now?

They’re talking about all of these things. Yes, Detroiters are concerned about city services — but the conversation in the city and nationally has also shifted to include things like racism and economic inequality.

Chase Cantrell is the executive director of Building Community Value, a non-profit that helps Detroiters do small development and rehab projects in their neighborhoods. He said that Duggan has been responsible for some major visible improvements, but it’s tougher for him to talk about some of the city’s more chronic and intangible problems, like poverty.

“It is harder for him to talk about the softer things. The kind of visionary matters that one might anticipate from a mayor as well,” Cantrell said.

Davidson agrees with that. She calls Duggan “a great salesman,” and gives him credit for his COVID pandemic response, which included opening mass testingand vaccination sites in the city. But she said he’s always been kind of a day late and a dollar short when it comes to addressing the pressing needs of most everyday Detroiters.

So the question for me is not whether he is a competent leader,” Davidson said. “The question for me is whether his vision is in accordance with mine, and with the needs of most Detroiters.”

Q: Duggan ran away with the primary. Is there any reason to expect a different outcome on Tuesday? 

The takeaway is that it’s a pretty smart bet that Duggan will win next Tuesday by a pretty wide margin.

Duggan sometimes will say he has a huge mandate for his agenda, but Chase Cantrell points out that if you look a little bit deeper, that’s not exactly true.

“Most of the support, if they do support Duggan, it’s pretty soft,” Cantrell said. “It’s you know, more of a we don’t want to vote for Anthony, versus we want to vote for Mike Duggan. And that doesn’t feel good either.”

And Cantrell says the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Detroiters just aren’t that politically-engaged right now. Primary turnout was something like 14%, and it probably won’t get too much higher than that on Tuesday.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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