Saturday, October 14, 2017

Detroit's Can-Do Mayor

George Will is out with another columns about a successful, non-ideological local politician, in this case Mayor Mike Duggan of Detroit:
With biblical succinctness, and foreshadowing a resurrection, Mike Duggan said, "Let there be light!" and 65,000 LED streetlights replaced the 40 percent of the city's streetlights that were broken when he took office in 2014. They are among the many reasons that on Nov. 7 he, the first white mayor here in 40 years, will win a landslide re-election in a city that is 83 percent black. Identity politics is frivolous; Detroit, after a bruising rendezvous with reality, is serious about recovering from its near-death experience.

In Duggan, Detroit has found its Fiorello La Guardia -- a short, stocky, cheerful, plainspoken incarnation of his city. In 1983, when Duggan returned, fresh from the University of Michigan Law School, "there was nobody my age on the streets." The Houston Chronicle was being sold at a busy intersection to unemployed autoworkers scanning the classifieds for Texas jobs. In 1950, Detroit was comparable to, and perhaps richer (by per capita income) than, Chicago. Soon, however, it was bleeding population, heading for bankruptcy as Greece on the Great Lakes, a dystopia plagued by de-industrialization, soaring crime, packs of feral dogs and a political class featuring incompetents leavened by felons.

Duggan, a Democrat in a city with nonpartisan elections, won in 2013 as a write-in candidate, telling voters, "You invite me to your home, I show up." Hundreds of house parties later, he was custodian of a prostrate city that had shed 260,000 residents in 13 years. Its 143 square miles could hold San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan with room to spare. By 2000, cattle could have been grazed in vast post-urban swaths. In 1950, the city had been home to 1.8 million; by 2013, it held two-thirds fewer. In the stampede away, many people abandoned their houses to the Midwestern elements. Most mayors brag about building; Duggan does, too, but also about demolishing -- 12,000 abandoned structures since 2014. His "board-up brigades" -- this is distinctively Detroit -- will seal off 11,000 and demolish 9,000 within two years. Says Duggan: "Tear down the burned-out houses, people will buy the others."

Police and EMS response times have been drastically reduced; 275 parks are fully maintained, up from 25 four years ago, when the grass was sometimes taller than the 8-year-olds. Such granular attention to the small stuff is having a huge payoff: Residential utility hookups are increasing. For the first time in his 59 years, the city is expected to grow. 
Other national news outlets have run positive stories about Duggan, including Politico, which wrote:
The low expectations of a beaten-down city and massive room to improve have unquestionably helped. “The great majority of Detroiters understand that we’re not going to be able to have a full recovery in every neighborhood at once, but most seem to feel that the pace of change is going in the right direction,” Duggan said. “And of course, nobody’s offered a solution to, OK, I’ve got 20,000 more Detroiters working than four years ago. What was your plan that would have done more than that? And I think the lack of an alternative is a big part of the support.”
Politico notes that Duggan's first initiative, replacing all of the city's broken street lights, was something of a stunt, but it was a stunt that the city's residents appreciated. Poltico goes on to explain that while Duggan is popular with some residents, he is far from loved, and Coleman Young II (son of the long-time former mayor) got nearly a third of the vote in the first round of balloting this year with no campaign to speak of. And while Duggan has made progress on many fronts, he has not dented the city's two biggest problems: violent crime and the dismal schools.

Bridge Magazine has a round-up of how Duggan is doing at keeping his promises here.

As I have noted before, what Will praises in Duggan is what one big faction of Americans wants from their government: not ideological wrangling, just a no-nonsense approach to fixing problems. I suspect the Republicans who have turned against Trump belong the this faction. Some people are impressed by rhetoric and gestures and focusing attention on issues they care about, but others want results they can see.

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