Detroit is many things, but for us in the news business it is a great news town!
Let’s face it, from Kwame to Kristine, Sam Riddle to Monica Conyers, Bob Ficano to Turkia Awada-Mullen and Mike Duggan to Tom Barrow, there is drama. Detroit can’t seem to move without controversy.
Kwame’s entire tenure was one eye-popping headline and breaking news story after another. He’s now in federal prison. Mayor Dave Bing talked a good game about cutting the budget and righting the ship. It never happened. He is now on his way out of office. He faced hurricane headwinds and headlines like the time the Rev. Malik Shabazz infamously threatened to burn the city down before allowing an emergency manager inside its limits.
Then Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr came to town and he can’t breathe without pushback and lawsuits. City Council faced much of this wrath and much more without getting anything accomplished in the budget cutting arena either. The majority of the current council is now on its way out of politics.
Knowing all of this, it is no surprise that the upcoming mayoral primary in August has its own brand of political drama. Mike Duggan turned in his nominating petitions two weeks early according to a Detroit judge. She ruled the city charter is explicit; a candidate needs to be a resident for a full year before filing petitions. Mike Duggan, himself a former election attorney, says it simply is not the case. He prevailed before the Detroit election commission on this point about a month ago.
Not so this week in a Detroit court. He now trudges off to the Michigan court of appeals to try and get another judge to see it his way; that the charter language really means that the filing date legally implies the day the window closes on candidate filing. He will tell you that’s the way it has always been interpreted in Michigan and, in fact, Coleman Young’s career was almost torpedoed early on in a somewhat similar legal case. The Appeals Court will sort this out one way or another. That’s just the prelude.
The real drama is not the question of whether Mike Duggan did something stupid and turned in his signatures two weeks early. It’s the reaction to the court case victory.
Tom Barrow, a veteran of previous failed mayoral campaigns, is an official candidate yet again. He says he learned the charter language as if it was his middle name and was a very happy camper last night. He held a 6:30 p.m. news conference where he crowed loudly [and with great relish] that he had vanquished Mike Duggan.
Watch: Tom Barrow's news conference
Tom could have been gracious and said he saw this coming [that’s what he told me today] that the judge was right and left it at that. He could have gone low key. But Barrow is a smart man with a penchant for the good sound bite. He felt the need to go for the “spike the football” moment. Barrow [who is black] invited Duggan [who is white] to go back to Livonia [his former suburban home] where they would likely throw Duggan a ticker tape parade. He used the phrase “our town” when saying Detroit just weathered the Dave Bing storm believing that much like Bing, Duggan is an outsider whose ideas and attitude are not applicable or welcome.
What’s more, Barrow is unrepentant in saying Duggan does not know Detroit and what its residents need and want. [Duggan says he’s worked in Detroit for 32 years and fully understands Detroiters and their city] Notwithstanding, the victory party continued. Union activist and currently-under-indictment Highland Park School Board Robert Davis [who was part of the lawsuit] joined in as well. He too felt the need to invoke that invitation for Duggan to return to Livonia.
This is the kind of politicking Detroiters have learned to expect and the kind of drama that keeps the media in business. It’s also the kind of “us versus them” attitude that in many ways helped create the City of Detroit that suffers now under emergency management and will likely find its way into Chapter 9 Municipal Bankruptcy in the months to come. This is a throwback tactic that makes for good headlines and great television news fodder. But as one Detroiter expressed this afternoon is not welcome as the city tries to move forward with a new outlook.
So, just as the saying goes “there is no party like a Detroit party” there is no drama like Detroit drama either. I have often said if one were to chronicle the daily twists and turns around here like Kwame or Wayne County’s political corruption and send it in to a New York novel publisher you’d probably get the manuscript back with a note saying this is too farfetched try again! Yet we live this stuff every day and there is no reason to believe Detroit will stop being that great news town.
Perhaps though, the city itself could use a little less drama.