• Duggan’s Decisive Win is a Comeback Story

    By Bankole Thompson

    Let’s get this out of the way: if the United States can elect Barack Obama twice as president, Detroit can elect Mike Duggan as mayor. It is not going to be politically impossible any longer because voters in Tuesday’s primary showed that they are more concerned with the policies and plans of the candidates than they are about their skin color. Duggan got over 50 percent of the votes leaving his challenger Benny Napoleon with 30 percent.

    We saw the first race test in the primary when some of the candidates directly or indirectly injected race at some of the debates that were held including one that I moderated (the final debate at Perfecting Church). Clearly that kind of politics once had political capital and sway in Detroit but if Tuesday’s results are anything to go by, not everyone in Detroit is buying into the wells of race and racism.

    For a write-in candidate come out as the top contender in a field with 13 contenders and to pull ahead with almost 20 percentage points is a political comeback story especially for Duggan who has been knocked off the ballot by two courts. Clearly, shows the strength of the Duggan campaign’s not only campaign war chest but also its ground game. Duggan has been visiting personal houses of voters long before the field of candidates became crowded.

    What happened on Tuesday was a payoff for such ground game but it also showed the power of personal politics. Voters take it to heart when you visit their homes personally to share your vision with them. How many candidates running for office take the time to visit more than 40 homes sitting in the living rooms of their constituents talking to them for hours? And to his credit Duggan was the first candidate to begin that kind of dialogue in this mayoral cycle.

    What happened on Tuesday defied conventional political wisdom and now forces Duggan’s ardent critics to rewrite their strategy or reconsider their thinking about the current political race. It also makes the race for Detroit’s next mayor a national contest because the city stands at the crucible of electing a white mayor for the first time in four decades.

    But the race for mayor is not over yet. Napoleon, who finished second surprisingly since he was in the lead until a week before the election, will be forced to mount a stronger campaign and now galvanize the troops while offering his own plan and vision for the city.

    We have a real mayor’s race now because both Duggan and Napoleon have no choice but to speak directly to the issues, and we have to vet their programs as well as their record to see who is best capable to usher Detroit into a new chapter after the city emerges from bankruptcy and in a post-Kevyn Orr era.

    There is a take away lesson for candidates in Tuesday’s election. That the campaign of divisiveness doesn’t work all the time and that voters can sometimes see through the prism of division. We saw it happened on the national stage with Obama’s reelection when some of his opposition started using code words that were directly aimed at creating racial hatred and to scare white voters in crucial states.

    Yet, Obama, won decisively for a second term to the shock of Washington’s conventional wisdom. Duggan, won decisively Tuesday because the majority who voted for him want to see something different. The votes were also a rejection of the racial politics that was the underpinning of the primary campaign.

    I recalled in one debate Tom Barrow directly pointed at Duggan and basically said he doesn’t have a Detroit accent, a direct and callous attack on a candidate who was born in this city. The other candidates had an opportunity at that time to condemn that kind of attack and to show that they were bigger than the lowest points of racial politics but they kept silent. Perhaps their thinking was if Barrow does the dirty job it might just work for them as well.

    Those who are bigger always rise above the divisive and political fray when others want to sink low. At least they should have gone on the record to condemn that level of campaigning. But it was not the case. And Detroit voters paid back with political spanking Tuesday night making it clear which direction they want to head to.

    Duggan v. Napoleon is the race to follow and will give us a lot to look forward to because both candidates know the stakes are high. Neither of them is going to be complacent. Certainly the threshold of performance this time around might weigh heavier on Napoleon because he finished second behind a write-in candidate instead of first place. He has to outperform and to show that he can take this city to a different level of leadership.

    The game is on.

    Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of the forthcoming 2014 book on Detroit titled “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future with Courage.” His most recent book “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” deals with the politics of the religious right, black theology and politics, the president’s faith posture across a myriad of issues with an epilogue written by former White House spokesman Robert S. Weiner. He is a political analyst at WDET-101.9FM (Detroit Public Radio) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York. Email him at bankole@bankolethompson.com and visit www.bankolethompson.com

  • Can Mike Duggan Make History?

     

    By Bankole Thompson

    In today’s Detroit primary election all eyes are on the write-in mayoral candidate Mike Duggan who has been the target of attacks by critics since he entered the race and after he was knocked off today’s ballot twice by a circuit court and an appeals court. However, Duggan’s supporters especially Strategic Staffing CEO and Chairperson of the Downtown Detroit Partnership Cindy Pasky urged the former Detroit Medical Center CEO to run as a write-in candidate.

    Since then Duggan has basically gone from what was once an impossible task for a write-in campaign to what appears to be a campaign that’s mounting serious challenge to its opponents. Because write-in campaigns have had limited successes in many states including Michigan, Duggan’s campaign stands to make history tonight if the former Wayne County Prosecutor can come in second place to be on the November general election ballot.  Already a poll placed him 10 points ahead of his likely rival Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon going into this primary.

    Several sources have told me that the campaigns of the other candidates are very nervous that Duggan could defy skeptics and make history night becoming the first write-in candidate to win a major victory either by coming second place or first place. But it all remains to be seen and what voters in Detroit will do today.

    The attacks by the other candidates, almost all of them focusing on getting Duggan off the ballot instead of explaining their own programs, plans and visions to Detroiters only helped Duggan to get more attention and to become a household name. His opponents intending to make a candidate who was born in Detroit look like an outsider, they succeeded in helping Duggan’s campaign get all the media attention it needed. Because the write-in campaign became more of a media magnate because of the way the campaign has been teasing their strategies to the press and the public. In fact Duggan’s critics – the other candidates- have only helped to solidify him as the candidate to beat.

    Was this a good strategy by Duggan’s opponents? I don’t think so. To have spent all that energy and legal fees in court to get rid of one candidate clearly shows the potency of the candidate itself and the fact that the other candidates are admitting he could pull this off.

    But regardless of all the polls in the last couple of months the real poll is in what voters will do when they get to the voting booth.

    And if Duggan succeeds tonight his opponents would have succeeded in making him the underdog of the 2014 Detroit mayoral campaign regardless of his campaign war chest, and this would make for the ultimate comeback story. If he doesn’t succeed then it’s speaks to the challenges of write-in campaigns. Because in their eyes he was not supposed to make it, he was an outsider…..and a candidate that doesn’t know Detroit. Those were the themes that came out of the final debate I moderated last Friday at Perfecting Church on the city’s eastside. Nearly all of the five major candidates agreed that on Tuesday voters should support a “Detroiter,” even though that term is vague, but it was a code word for an “outsider” an apparent reference to Duggan and his campaign. I recalled another debate I co-moderated where his chief opponent Tom Barrow basically said Duggan doesn’t have a Detroit accent. Duggan’s campaign manager is Bryan Barnhill, the young Harvard graduate from Detroit who chose to come back to the city when his options were far and wide. All of these personal attacks and negative campaigning instead of explaining plans and programs to salvage Detroit, makes for a more fascinating primary tonight and to see which candidates will run off in November.

    Who will be vindicated? Duggan or his critics?

    But outside of Duggan or Napoleon, Detroit won’t have a real mayor’s race in November. These two are the most formidable. The other candidates have contributed to public service and some are currently serving in office, but what Detroit needs is more than just parading a public service remedy. Again the threshold of leadership in this town must be raised to a higher level than what we saw in last Tuesday’s televised debate at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History which was a clown show beyond redemption.

    Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of the forthcoming 2014 book on Detroit titled “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future with Courage.” His most recent book “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” deals with the politics of the religious right, black theology and politics, the president’s faith posture across a myriad of issues with an epilogue written by former White House spokesman Robert S. Weiner. He is a political analyst at WDET-101.9FM (Detroit Public Radio) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York. Email him at bankole@bankolethompson.com and visit www.bankolethompson.com

  • Beyond Kevyn Orr, There’s Future for Detroit

    By Bankole Thompson

    The prevailing wisdom is that the appointment of an emergency manager in Detroit would suppress people’s appetite to vote in this coming crucial primary election. I hope not. And the emergency manager Kevyn Orr did not help matters when he described the city once as “dumb, lazy, rich” in a recent full blown Wall Street Journal interview. Because of public pressure resulting from the interview, Orr’s office is now saying he was referring to past leaders of the city not residents. But he never made that distinction in the Wall Street Journal article. I’ve had series of sit-down interviews with Orr since his appointment, and he always came out to me as one who is candid but careful in the words he chose to describe the current state of Detroit.

    That’s why his latest comments totally out of place and unexpected of a man who is still in the crosshairs of those who strongly believe he should not have been here in the first place, is going to further sow seeds of agony, discord, doubt and skepticism in the “good faith” efforts of Gov. Rick Snyder and others who agree that Detroit has a financial crisis that must be tackled.

    From my many interviews with Gov. Snyder, the phrases that Orr used in his overview of Detroit, is contrary to how the governor has described Detroit in the past and up till now. I’ve never heard of the governor speak in those terms. Because it is not appropriate and as a public official whether elected or not once you begin to use words like “dumb, lazy” to describe the city or people you are brought in to serve it raises many character questions about how you feel about the city.

    There is a place and time to do everything. If Orr’s responsibility is to take care of the finances of Detroit he should do just that and leave the rest to the duly elected officials of Detroit. The city is already in bankruptcy where many questions will be raised in Judge Steven Rhodes court. Detroit can’t afford an emergency manager who is telling the Wall Street Journal that the city he’s appointed to serve was once “dumb, lazy……” And Orr should know very well that in the African American community the word “lazy” and “dumb” are code words that have been used numerous times in the past to describe black elected officials or the black community by extreme conservative critics. And to use those very words in an interview with the nation’s leading conservative media organ explains why some critics in Michigan are already calling Orr “Michigan’s Clarence Thomas.” Clearly he has handed a gift to Michigan Democrats who will lay it all at the feet of Snyder.

    The description of Orr as Clarence Thomas-like might be too far but the emergency manager has already created a political albatross that would make it difficult for him to succeed for the entire time he is in Detroit. He has emboldened his critics and proved their skepticism right by using words that no public official should use to describe communities they are serving.

    When former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney described 47 percent of people as “moochers” it sunk his campaign. That was his political albatross he was unable to recover from it because no one was listening to him anymore. We don’t expect public officials to talk down on those they are supposed to serve. Even though Orr isn’t running for office, his interview will further create an uncomfortable atmosphere for him to oversee the city’s financial wellbeing.

    Maybe that is why Orr’s office is now trying to walk back his remarks by saying he was referring to past leaders. But even at that he mentioned in the Wall Street Journal article about the city having an 8th grade education, was happy with it and went to sleep. Which of Detroit’s past leaders had an 8th grade education? It’s hard to comprehend what he is talking about.

    Detroit has a lot of issues and leadership failures but like every other city, it is going through a transition. We can describe the city’s pain in many varied ways but certainly “lazy and dumb” are not the adjectives I would use in my dictionary. Public officials must uplift and inspire hope not insult and talk down on communities no matter what era they are discussing in an interview. I hope Orr recognizes that and take back those words. With those words in the Wall Street Journal, the emergency manager stands to be politically strangled by his critics and the pressure against his appointment will only increase from now on as he’s basically empowered his critics. This is an unnecessary distraction for the entire bankruptcy process.

    And this underscores why Tuesday’s primary election is so important. And the two candidates that will give us a real leadership test in the general election are former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. The primary challenge has been mostly a political clown show. It is time for a real race and it begins with Duggan v. Napoleon.

    Because there is going to be life after an emergency manager and bankruptcy, and the next chapter of leadership in Detroit cannot bring the city back to this low moment. It should move the city from the current and past doldrums to a new era of political and economic transformation. With all of the developments coming to the city and a booming downtown, the promise of a new Detroit is not unreal. It is here. But first there needs to be a real test of leadership and Duggan and Napoleon should explain how each candidate can steer the leadership ship of Detroit safely to shore.

    Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of the forthcoming 2014 book on Detroit titled “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future with Courage.” His most recent book “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” deals with the politics of the religious right, black theology and politics, the president’s faith posture across a myriad of issues with an epilogue written by former White House spokesman Robert S. Weiner. He is a political analyst at WDET-101.9FM (Detroit Public Radio) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York. Email him at bankole@bankolethompson.com and visit www.bankolethompson.com