Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan said he is aware of the obstacles to his run for mayor of Detroit but said no matter who is elected, people want crime reduced and streetlights back on. / KIMBERLY P. MITCHELL/Detroit Free Press
Mike Duggan said he knows it will be a challenge to convince Detroit voters that he's the best candidate to represent their interests as the city's next mayor.
But he says his message of restoring the city's right to self-determination -- in other words, getting Detroit out from under state financial oversight -- and renewed cooperation with municipal unions will resonate in a city battered by turmoil and unprecedented outside intervention in its future.
The campaign hasn't started yet, and it's not clear who's going to run -- even Mayor Dave Bing has yet to say publicly he wants another term. Duggan plans to spend the next three months gauging whether there's enough support for him to formally declare his candidacy. But in a wide-ranging interview with the Free Press, Duggan talked in detail Friday about how he would approach the job and laid out some of his toughest criticisms yet of Bing.
Duggan, the Detroit Medical Center chief and former Wayne County prosecutor, placed blame for the city's lack of progress in reversing its financial troubles at the feet of the Bing administration, implying that it's flailing at crisis after crisis, some self-inflicted.
"I think that's been a big part of the problem, that you have a few people trying to do everything under the Bing administration, and I think that's part of why the problems have gotten away from them," Duggan said while seated in a conference room at a downtown law firm.
"He's certainly been up against a lot of odds, and he has worked very long hours trying to solve them," Duggan said of Bing. "But now we're about to have, it appears, our fourth police chief in four years. You cannot have an effective strategy to turn around crime when the police chief's turning over every year. And those are the kinds of issues I think have held the city back."
Duggan said Bing erred in slashing the pay of the city's police force as the city experienced a spike in homicides, and said he believes Bing's efforts to privatize the city's health and human services departments through independent, outside agencies will be of little long-term benefit.
Bing spokesman Robert Warfield said Friday that the mayor's office wouldn't comment on Duggan's potential candidacy or his criticisms of the mayor's handling of city affairs.
Giving a taste of the kinds of positions he's advocating as he drums up support from corporate bigwigs and everyday Detroiters, Duggan:
• Took a swipe at Bing for brokering significant concessions from the city's unions, but then abandoning those agreements at the demand of Gov. Rick Snyder's administration, which said they didn't go far enough to cut costs. The city's labor unions viewed that as a betrayal.
"I mean, at what point do you simply get people who don't want to work with you, and there's no confidence in the union leadership that if they take this next round of concessions it'll be enough to balance the budget?" Duggan said. "I don't think anybody has a feel that there's a plan that actually puts this city in a solvent position."
• Criticized Bing's steps to outsource the public health and work force development departments, and hand over management of the city's bus system to an outside company.
"When you privatize an operation, it is a failure of management," Duggan said. "A public entity does not have to make a profit. So if the private company comes in and can do it better while making a profit, it means you had a significant management problem in the first place."
• Said he remains hopeful about a better future for Detroit because of the influx of new businesses downtown and in Midtown, and more young people moving in and wanting to see the city revived.
"You're seeing businesses and young people moving in at a rate that I haven't seen in the 30 years that I've been working in the city," Duggan said. "On the other hand, you go into the neighborhoods, and the neighborhoods aren't seeing any of the benefits of that. And that's what we've got to do: We've got to extend those successes into the neighborhoods."
Light rail, Belle Isle
Duggan weighed in on the city's failed attempt to build a light rail line on Woodward from downtown to 8 Mile, saying city officials should not have tried to expand on the initial proposed streetcar system -- from downtown to West Grand Boulevard in the New Center area. Duggan said the city should have let private supporters, such as Roger Penske and Dan Gilbert, build the first leg and then add on later.
Backers have regrouped and now are trying to win federal funding for a shorter rail line.
The DMC is one of the corporate backers of the project and would sponsor a station at Woodward and Canfield, Duggan said.
"Our coalition lost two years, at which point the city came back and said, 'Oops, we were wrong. We don't have the matching money. Let's scrap the project,' " Duggan said. "If you'd let Penske go forward in the first place, we would have that rail line under construction now."
Duggan also said he believes a plan to set up an authority to take over the city's troubled public lighting department is not a long-term solution to getting streetlights back on and stabilizing an overburdened, outdated lighting system. The proposal has been stalled in the Legislature, and Duggan said he's not convinced it would bring the kind of dramatic change the lighting department needs.
"I'm not a particular fan of it," Duggan said. "All it does is let the city take its own tax revenues and borrow against them. The city has been borrowing against future revenues for years. ... We need to put strong management in, and go fix it."
Nor does he support a contentious proposal for the state to lease Belle Isle for 30 years -- with two optional 30-year renewals -- and operate the island as a state park through the Department of Natural Resources.
The plan slammed into major opposition from the City Council, whose members said there were other unexplored options that would maintain city control of the park. They also insisted that the state put in writing guarantees that it would come through with the millions pledged for park upgrades.
Duggan said he is largely opposed to the proposal, saying Detroiters and elected officials are much more likely now to approve an entry fee to the island under an agreement that would maintain city control of the park.
New to Detroit
Many of Duggan's positions put him at odds with what Bing and the Snyder administration have attempted to do with the financial stability agreement. The deal prevented appointment of an emergency manager, but gave the state broad fiscal oversight as Detroit attempts to rein in annual deficits and staggering retiree pension and health care costs.
His views might play well with the city's powerful labor unions, among whom little love is lost on Bing. But Duggan acknowledged that he's got his work cut out for him in convincing Detroiters that he's the guy they want in charge.
For one, he's a recent transplant to Detroit. He bought a home in the city's Palmer Woods neighborhood earlier this year after raising his kids in suburban Livonia.
He'd be a white mayor of a majority black city that has had black mayors for decades.
But Duggan said he hears the same overriding concerns from residents, even those skeptical of his chances: No matter who's elected, they want crime reduced, streetlights back on and abandoned homes and businesses occupied or removed.
"That's 80% of the conversation," Duggan said. "It's been a fascinating process."
Duggan said he understands the odds, but believes he can overcome doubts about whether he could be elected. He's working to raise $5 million for a potential campaign -- a goal he said will give him a strong indication of his viability.
"I was born in this city. I went to high school in this city. I've worked in this city for 30 years. I think I have roots with almost every organization in this city," Duggan said. "But if what you're doing is you're voting for a mayor who's lived in the city the longest, that isn't necessarily going to get you to the person who can execute a financial turnaround."
More Details: Mike Duggan
Status: Exploring a run for mayor of Detroit and says he’ll make his decision in late December after gauging support.
Current position: CEO of the Detroit Medical Center.
Previous public positions: Former Wayne County prosecutor and deputy Wayne County executive under Ed McNamara.
Education: Bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Michigan.
More Details: The possible field
Status: Hasn’t said publicly whether he’ll run again, but has privately told supporters he will.
Background: Bachelor’s degree in economics, Syracuse University. Detroit mayor since a special election in 2009; former Detroit Piston and founder of the Bing Group, an auto supplier.
Status: Declared candidate.
Background: Bachelor’s degree, University of Michigan; master’s degree in finance, Walsh College. State House representative from Detroit, elected in 2010; certified public accountant and former auditor and business analyst; Detroit City Council candidate in 2009.
Other possible contenders
• Detroit native and Washington, D.C., school administrator Andrae Townsel
• Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, although his chief of staff signed on as Mike Duggan’s campaign manager
• Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, a former Detroit police chief