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Q&A With Detroit Mayoral Candidate Mike Duggan

BLAC's chat with the former Wayne County deputy executive, general manager of the SMART bus system, Wayne County prosecutor and CEO of the Detroit Medical Center

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Do you believe that Detroit should become more regionalized and share services and expenses with neighboring communities? Explain why or why not.

I think you look at that on a case-by-case basis. But Detroit is so large, that I really believe we ought to be running our own services and doing them well. I really think my priority is not going to be to regionalize. My priority is going to be to run our departments a lot better than they are being run today, and run them ourselves.

What would you do to battle blight and the thousands of abandoned homes and buildings in Detroit?

The trick on fighting blight is to seize the houses when they are first abandoned, and not just demolish them three or four years later. I think this city has been terribly misguided, and continues to be terribly misguided, in the policy of just demolishing everything. Many of these homes are solid structures and can be saved, and what we need to do is combine those strategies into a single department of neighborhoods. We are going to take houses when they are first abandoned and move families in. Those that are too far-gone, that are burned out, we are going to knock those down. And what we are going to do is go through the neighborhoods together, take down the houses that can't be saved, move families into the houses that can be saved, as opposed to what we have been doing in the city for 40 years, which is knock down everything.

Do you support efforts to "right-size" the city by offering incentives to encourage residents living in outer rung, dilapidated areas of the city to move to more populated areas? Why do you think this is a good or bad idea?

That's one of the key points in the 10-point plan. Everybody has a right to live where they want and nobody should be coerced into moving from their home. But what I want to do is, with the agreement of the surrounding neighborhoods and the city council, create incentive zones in the areas that are sparsely populated. And say to people in the area that if you are willing to move, we will appraise your house and we will give you triple credit on any auction to buy into the houses in the more densely populated areas. So we will be taking houses away from the people who abandoned them in the densely populated areas as I did as prosecuted. They will be auctioned and if you are in a sparsely populated area and your house is appraised at 10,000, you will be able to bid up to 30,000, so we create positive incentives to move you into those stronger neighborhoods

How would you affect change while Detroit has an emergency manager?

The immediate question is going to be the plan of adjustment in bankruptcy. The plan of adjustment that comes out of bankruptcy court is going to determine Detroit's future. It's going to decide what happens to Belle Isle, what happens to the water department, what happens to retiree pensions, what happens to the rec center. And right now, Kevyn Orr is driving that plan of adjustment. When I get there, I am going to engage the emergency manager and the governor very aggressively in what I believe is the right strategy for Detroit's future; a strategy that preserves our assets, such as Belle Isle and the water department and does not cut the retiree pensions but does modify the retiree health care, but also looks at what the city is going to look like in five years. What do we need for police and fire protection, what do we need for recreational services, and lays out that plan.

I am going to engage Nov. 6—the first day after the election—with what my perspective on that is, and I hope that I convince the governor and emergency manager to go along with it. If they don't, then I will go to the bankruptcy judge and lay out an alternative plan of adjustment that will balance the budget equally well, but will preserve Detroit's assets. So I am going to start by trying to be cooperative and engaging positively, and if that doesn't work, then we will take the legal steps.

Do you believe the emergency manager is here unconstitutionally?

Yes I do.

After the emergency manager has left and bankruptcy details have been settled, what would you do to improve the city's future?

I am going to do everything I've just laid out for you. The idea that the emergency manager is going to solve our problems is unrealistic. No place in Michigan has the emergency manager successfully solved the city's problems. And many cities like Hamtramck, Highland Park and Ecorse have been recycled to emergency managers over and over, because the emergency manager may restructure some of the debt, but the same problems of a huge need for law enforcement and social services in a city with declining population and tax base still exist. The need to do a turnaround is going to be critical in our operations. The emergency manager isn't going to solve our problems. The emergency manager may get rid of some of the debt.

The way you turn a city around is to cut the police response time, get the street lights on, and rebuild these neighborhoods by taking the abandoned houses and getting them occupied. And if you do those things, I think we can reverse the history of population decline in the city.

Why do you think you're the best choice for Detroit's mayor at this time?

This city is in financial crisis, and what we need is someone who has done financial turnarounds, who has looked bankruptcy in the eye and brought organizations back. I did it at Wayne County as deputy county executive when Wayne County was near bankruptcy in the late 1980s. I did it as general manager of the SMART bus system in the 1990s when the SMART bus system was near bankruptcy. And I did it of course, more recently, at the Detroit Medical Center when it was on the verge of closing Receiving, Hutzel and Sinai Grace Hospitals.

And so I look at my opponent, who has done a number of things in his career, but has never turned around anything financial in his life. The people of this city have a choice, but if we are going to come out of this financial crisis, we need somebody who has dealt with financial crisis successfully.

It is often said that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In that spirit, what policies, events, issues, etc. do you think have been the biggest contributors to getting us to this place?

There have certainly been a number of things. Certainly the policy of the last 40 years of demolishing all abandoned homes three or four years after they have been abandoned has been terrible. It has allowed the city's population to go from 1.8 million to 700,000, with people walking away from their homes in astonishing numbers because all we try to do is knock down the homes as opposed to trying to reuse them. So certainly that has been a significant problem. I'd probably focus on that more than anything else.

More than the past mayors?

Well, I remember when Mayor Young said he was going to knock down 10,000 vacant homes to solve the problem. I remember when Mayor Archer was going to knock down 10,000 houses to solve the problem. Then Mayor Bing announced he was going to knock down 10,000 houses to solve the problem. So I think that is probably an area where the policies need to be changed, and we are going to move in a dramatically different direction in seizing the houses when they are first abandoned and move families in. 

If you are elected mayor, what would be the top 3 things you'd have on your "things to do list" for your first week in office?

Cut the police response time. Speed up street light repairs. And seize abandoned homes and get the occupied, not just demolished.

Biographical Information

BLAC note: Duggan’s campaign would not supply or verify information for the biographical section of our feature. The above information was found through web sleuthing and we believe to be accurate. Religious or church affiliation was not found, so was not included.

Date of birth
July 15, 1958

Birth city

Marital status
Wife Lori Maher

Children's names and ages
Patrick Edward Duggan, Carolyn Duggan

Grandchildren ages and gender
One new grandchild

High school
Detroit Catholic Central High School

University of Michigan (undergrad)
University of Michigan Law School

Campaign Slogan
Every neighborhood has a future. "It starts by saving the neighborhoods. The way you turn a city around is to cut the police response time, get the street lights on, and rebuild these neighborhoods by taking the abandoned houses and getting them occupied. And if you do those things, I think we can reverse the history of population decline in the city."

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