ack when he was President and CEO of Detroit Medical Center (DMC), Mike Duggan hoped to bring his business acumen to help rescue a city in crisis. Four years later, Duggan wants to finish what he started. Read the full-legnth interview below.
While the general tenor of the conversion about Detroit’s oft touted “resurgence” has been mostly positive and collaborative in nature, your role as mayor is an important part of this unfolding narrative. Of Detroit’s successes during the last four years, where has your own leadership come into play?
I think the biggest thing has been the tone in politics with City Hall. It’s been Council President Brenda Jones and me working together. Detroit used to be a national embarrassment. Activities in the council, the fight with mayor and (the) council, the fight with the mayor and the union, the fight with the mayor and the union, the fight with the mayor and Lansing, and the fact that we’re now four years in and I have yet to veto a single act of the City Council that’s inconceivable in the City of Detroit. I think it set a professional tone to make it easier for people to want to come and open their businesses here.
It may have been that I got elected at the right time. Around here, we just try to get our jobs done…response times are down…permits are pulled a lot faster. There’s been a lot of people in the city administration (that) have done a lot to change the system. The 9,000 city employees have really bought into delivery services…it’s all adding up together.
Are there any plans for Detroit to work with the surrounding regions? If so, can you discuss why this could be valuable for the city?
We need to get a regional transit plan passed. The three county executives and I were not very engaged in the 2016 ballot proposal that went down and we have to do better in 2018 because we have a quarter of the people in the city don’t have a car. We dramatically expanded DDOT services last couple of years but a lot of people going to jobs in the suburbs and they’re taking a lot of time for connecting routes…I would say the most urgent need is to build out a much more comprehensive regional transit system.
A second term usually means you have the opportunity to stay the course – to finish what you started. How has your vision shifted over the last four years?
I don’t think anything has changed. What’s changed is that we now have the team in place. The first year it was tough to recruit. Actually, if you look at the team running the department we’ve got some of the finest people around the country and the finest talent out of the City of Detroit, and in the next four years we’re going to be focusing on achievement as opposed to the learning curve. I think what you’re seeing now will speed up. Everybody here is focused on the same thing and that’s extending the extraordinary growth in Downtown and Midtown to start to extending that into the neighborhoods.
Talk about city safety over the past four years. What progress has Detroit made in this area?
Five years ago, there were approximately 380 homicides in the city; this year, we’re on track for 280. That’s a major reduction in the last five years. The city remains much too violent. So, we have a long way to go, but I think Chief (Craig) and the Detroit Police Department have done an excellent job. We’ve got 200 more police officers in the academy now, we’re putting more police on the street. The other thing is Green Light has been a remarkable success. We now have 210 gas stations, party stores and businesses, built on monitoring and the carjackings in this city are down…40 percent in just two years. And there’s no doubt that Green Light is responsible for that. I used to get up every morning and check my crime report and there’d be a carjacking at a gas station and a party store….those have dropped dramatically. We’re making progress but we have a long way to go.
The Detroit Land Bank Authority has become something of a controversial issue during your administration. How do you respond to your critics who see a decline in demolitions every week coupled with an alleged rise in the Land Bank’s payroll?
The Land Bank has taken down more than 12,000 houses in the last three years. That’s four times the rate of any other city in America. We definitely made mistakes going too fast, but I think the great majority of Detroiters appreciate the pace that they’ve seen. The only thing we’re (even) more proud of is 3,000 homes that were vacant four years ago have families (in them)….the Land Bank sold them out of auction, got people to fix up houses, got people to move in. I think the part about the Land Bank that I don’t think gets nearly enough (coverage) are the 3,000 vacant houses that now have families in them.
There has been a lot of talk – as you already know – about two distinct Detroits (the haves and the have nots). Your opponent claims that you deny this fact. What’s your response to such a critique?
I believe deeply in a vision that we’re going to build one Detroit for all of us. In our city, we have far too many people living in poverty. And the solution to poverty is a good paying job, which means we have to bring the jobs into the city and we have to create the opportunity for our residents to get the skills to be able to fill them. Both those things have to happen. That also means other pieces…it means improving the transit system. We have 1,500 buses per week and we put 24-hour service back on the road, so that jobs that get out in 2 in the morning Detroiters can now get a bus to. It also means significant initiatives with returning citizens like the job training program we have in Ryan [sic?] Prison, so that folks who have high barriers to employment can overcome those barriers and get a good paying job. We’re going to keep working every one of these strategies, and we have nearly 20,000 more Detroiters working today than where working four years ago. We know we have a long way to go, but we’re working really hard to make sure that the growth includes everyone.
Can you point to any signature achievement(s) in your first term that you are most proud of?
As I said before, I think the relationship between the mayor and council (is) the most important achievement. I get 50 percent of the credit and council gets 50 percent of the credit.
What do you hope your time in office has revealed about Mike Duggan?
I’m the same guy that was running the hospital system. If you took my cabinet from the Detroit Medical Center (DMC) and dropped them into the City of Detroit cabinet meeting they would recognize the weekly reports….how fast did the ambulances show up? How fast was the grass cut in the park? How many people got mortgages last month? How many more Detroiters moved into the city last month? Basically, everybody has to do their job and if each of the people running the departments and the people that work there do their job, the cumulative effect is a city that’s coming back. If everybody does their job, it has an effect on the wellbeing of everybody in the city.
One word to describe Detroit?
Favorite superhero movie (or character)?
My superhero is always Underdog. Something about the whole underdog mentality has always appealed to me and I think always appealed to people in Detroit.
Name a current Detroit hero alive today.
Big Sean. He has created music training opportunities in the profession and has an entire program….he’s got a program at Cass Tech training folks. To me, he’s an example of somebody who has succeeded, but never forgot where he came from and is creating opportunities for others.
What quality (or qualities) do you admire most in your opponent?
He’s got a good smile.
Read our interview with mayoral candidate Coleman Young II.