Please, Detroit Needs a Real Mayor’s Race

By Bankole Thompson

I watched the mayor’s debate last night at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History and could not help but called it almost a political clown show. Most of the candidates on the stage knew very well that if they were applying for a job they would offer something more substantive than that instead of rambling and treating this important election like it is a baseball game for them.

 Because democracy enjoins everyone to have a voice in the process doesn’t mean we should settle for mediocre candidates who have no clue what it takes to run a city or an understanding of municipal governance. I listened to some of the candidates struggle to make clear their vision for America’s 18th largest city and the home of the auto industry.

Their sometimes rather inept presentation, unclear mandate and lack of a strategic vision really lowers the leadership threshold in this town. We have capable men and women in this town who could do 100 times better than most of what we saw on television last night. What we saw does not represent the whole of Detroit and it is unfortunate seeking the highest office in the city would attract individuals who know very well that if this was a job classification to run a giant institution, they won’t even show because they can’t pass the interview test.

Yes, I understand the need to use the mayor’s race as a platform to express anger and frustration in our local government. Candidates do that all the time. But as I painfully watched the debate I just kept getting a flashback to the last presidential campaign and asking myself “how many Ron Pauls do we have in this mayor’s race?” How many Sarah Palins reminders do we need in this mayor’s race?

Detroit deserves a higher leadership threshold than what we saw last night. Most of the candidates who were doing mostly a political circus show on television, know well that they can’t and are not even prepared to serve as deputy mayor of the city.

To remotely suggest that they are prepared to be Detroit’s next mayor without any concrete evidence of public service at the highest levels of local government and civic engagement is beyond any comprehension. This is a big JOKE.

Certainly every voice needs to be heard in a democracy. That is an uncompromised principle. But leadership requires careful demonstration of passion and commitment to uplift the lives of those mostly out of the reach of government and community. And not everyone should walk into that platform claiming their own definition of leadership makes them ready to be Detroit’s next mayor.

It is sad because I know well what I saw last night does not represent whole of Detroit. The city is bigger than that. Let’s demand a real mayor’s race from the long circus we’ve seen in this primary campaign.

In my view the real race is between Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan. Tom Barrow, Lisa Howze, Fred Durhal and Krystal Crittendon have demonstrated public service. But Napoleon and Duggan would give Detroit the race for leadership in the general election.

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 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 and visit

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