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 and visit

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