Q&A With Detroit Mayoral Candidate Mike Duggan

BLAC Detroit's editorial staff had the opportunity to speak with both Detroit mayoral candidates before voters take to the polls on Nov. 5, 2013. Here, we chatted with Mike Duggan, former Wayne County deputy executive, general manager of the SMART bus system, Wayne County prosecutor and CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, and the mayoral candidate discussed his views on everything from reducing the crime rate to bringing more jobs to the city to mass transit.

Policies and Issues

What you would do to stop Detroit's population erosion and attract new residents and families to live in the city?

We have a number of people moving into the city. Our problem is that they are moving out of the neighborhoods at a faster rate and we are still losing probably 250 people a week out of the city. I am running on a campaign platform of every neighborhood has a future, and it starts by saving the neighborhoods.

Basically, what we are going to do is take the 15 departments and agencies dealing with neighborhoods and services, and consolidate them into one single department of neighborhoods that is responsible for abandoned houses, demolishing, vacant lots, code enforcement, dealing with the scrappers that are stripping the homes, and partnering with the neighborhood groups to provide tools and dumpsters for cleanups. So we are going to do all of that in the department of neighborhoods. Then we are going to restart the program I ran in the prosecutor's office where we seized abandoned houses from the people who abandoned them, filed lawsuits against those owners and gave them the choice of fixing up the house or getting it occupied themselves. Or giving it to us and we sold it on a website like eBay and more than 1,000 abandoned houses and 900 drug houses we sued on and got families to fix them up and move in.

What would you do to improve safety in the city and reduce the crime rate?

The first thing we have to do is cut the police response time. And that means making sure that all officers that are available are on the streets. Jobs like payroll, that are now being done by more than 50 police officers, can be done by trained civilians at half the salary because we have to get the response time down.

We have to support the officers with the latest in vehicles and equipment and that means the onboard computers, which will allow them to do their police reports as they should when they pick up a prisoner in the car, so they can drop the prisoner and the report off together. But today, many times the onboard computer doesn't work and they are having to go back into the precinct to write out their reports. So, we don't have cars available many times for response. And we need to go back to the policies we had 10 years ago on gun violence, when I was a prosecutor and we had a team of the U.S. Attorney, ATF, DEA, Detroit Police and the prosecutor all working together to investigate and prosecute every single gun crime. And my last year as prosecutor in 2003, we had the fewest murders in 30 years, and that strategy has been very successful in Boston and other cities in the country. We need to go back to a conservative strategy on gun violence. 


What would you do to bring more jobs to Detroit?

The key to our economy is not auto plants with 5,000 jobs, but large numbers of entrepreneurs starting their own businesses and feeding off each other; that's the way great cities are growing today. So I look at all of these vacant storefronts on McNichols or Grand River or Van Dyke, and just as I was able to legally seize houses from the people who abandoned them, we can seize these storefronts from the owners who have abandoned them. We can make them available to entrepreneurs for a dollar. We can establish a one-stop-shop that cuts the permanent bureaucracy dramatically. I want to partner new entrepreneurs in mentorships with the existing business people in this town, many of whom are supporting me and have all volunteered to mentor new entrepreneurs. And then work with the foundations to run a much greater program modeled on the Comerica Hatch program, where they award $50,000 to one company a year. I want to start a $10,000 pool, where we are awarding startup money every quarter to people with good business plans and the ability to deliver. So that we can go across the city and fill in these store fronts with entrepreneurs and build a real entrepreneur class in Detroit.

What would you do to help improve the quality of schools in Detroit?

Well I am not in favor of the mayor running the schools, but I want to be the best partner the Detroit Public Schools ever had. To start with, we need to get these abandoned homes down near these schools. Most elementary schools in the city, children are still walking past open and dangerous buildings and we need to create safe passage. And the other thing is, I am going to be an extremely strong advocate for the Detroit Public Schools. We need to make sure that the programs that are successful are being promoted, that somebody is advocating in Lansing for their fair share of funding. And I am going to partner every way that I can to make the Detroit schools successful.

One thing I want to expand on is something I did at the Detroit Medical Center (DMC) where in my first year we started a program called Project Genesis, where we hired 100 DPS high school students for $10 an hour to work for the summer in our hospitals to expose them to the medical field. It's been extremely successful. And this past summer, DMC did it for the eighth year. But we've had students who started out in high school who are in medical school today. We've got other students who never went to college but are working with MRI or CT techs at DMC because they were exposed to the field. What I want to do is get all businesses in this town to create these kinds of part-time activities, so kids can be exposed to very positive career tracks where they can make a living.

How do you think business and corporations can help Detroit?

I really think building the entrepreneurial class in this city is critical. And so there are about 150 business owners in Detroit, mostly small African-American businesses who have endorsed me in this campaign. And I've talked about setting up a mentorship. And we are going to set something up much like eHarmony or Match.com, where the existing business owners put in their profiles, the up-and-coming entrepreneurs put in theirs and then they select each other. So we use the existing business talent in this city to help the next generation of entrepreneurs to get started out, and I think that would be a huge step. And of course the support through philanthropic community, we've seen it in a visible way with the police cars and the ambulances. In a deeper way with the Detroit Future City and the millions of dollars being put in neighborhood redevelopment, I think there are lots of ways we can get the business community partnering. Then again what I said before is I want to see if we can get all the companies in this town to adopt a version of Project Genesis, where they do create summer and part-time opportunities for high school students, where they are paid and get a chance to be exposed to potential careers.

How exactly will this boost the economy?

Well, jobs are being created by small businesses. I would like to create the city, where if you are an entrepreneur, you look and say: I can get a building for next to nothing. They will make the permitting process move quickly for me. There is potential startup funding if I have a good plan. They will partner me with businesses that have been successful. Detroit could become the place that entrepreneurs know that it's the easiest place to get started on a new business. If we did that, we could potentially get to the point where you get the next generation of Detroiters growing up thinking, 'I don't have to grow up working for somebody else. I can grow up and start my own business and be my own boss, and be able to see lots of examples around them of people who have done it successfully.' And when we hit that point, that's when the economy of the city comes back. 

What would you do to minimize corruption, cronyism and waste in Detroit city government?

That is something that is set at the top. But we will put in a very aggressive integrity plan, where every city employee will go through training over what is expected. We will set up an independent reporting process, which will be posted in work buildings and lunchrooms across the city, where if anybody sees evidence of wrongdoing, they will be able to call and we will have a department of integrity that will be able to pursue it. And we will also make those numbers available to the public, so if the people in the public see something that they think is dishonest, it will also be followed up. So we will establish a culture of integrity where the members of the public and city employees see that the leadership actually cares about what's going on and acts on it quickly. Then I think you will see a lot more people come forward, and that's ultimately how you change the culture.

Do you believe having improved mass transit in southeast Michigan is important? If so, why, and what efforts would you support or endorse? If not, why?

I ran the SMART bus system from 1992 to 1995 when it was on the verge of going out of business because I think that regional transit is critical. You will never have another candidate for mayor that actually spent four years running a transit system. But it's essential to seniors for their independence. It's essential to young people getting to school. And it's essential to a whole lot of people to get to their jobs.

What efforts would you support for a stronger mass transit system?

Well, when I was at DMC, we were sponsoring the Woodward and Canfield site for the M1 Rail. We were an original partner in the M1 Rail. But as I say when SMART was going to close, when I was general manager, we redesigned the routes, built the riders up dramatically, and we ultimately passed a millage in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County with 70 percent of the vote. That's the reason SMART is still operating today. So a regional transit system that has a combination of rapid transit and an extensive bus network is what we need.

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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