Beleaguered Detroit is banking on a white mayor to end its nightmare

U-turn in Motor City where 82 per cent of population is African-American

It isn’t just the 10 speeding tickets accumulated by Mike Duggan over just five years that ought to impede his attempt to be elected mayor when Detroiters go to the polls on Tuesday, or the fact that he only recently moved into the city from the comfy suburb of Livonia. No, the real issue surely is his colour.

Except it isn’t. Unless the polling is badly off, there is little doubt that once the votes are in, Mr Duggan will have beaten fellow Democrat, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, to be elected the first white mayor of what is one of America’s most fabled – and financially beleaguered – major cities since Coleman Young took the office in 1974.

The result would mark a significant departure for Detroit – a city whose population is 82 per cent African-American – and would be yet another sign that America is placing less importance on the race of its political candidates. Mr Duggan’s story has drawn comparisons to the fictional character Tommy Carcetti from the hit American TV series The Wire. In the show, Carcetti, who is white, is elected mayor in the predominantly black city of Baltimore.

A sense that Detroit’s citizens would be best served by an outsider appears to prevail ahead of this election. Heavy on voters’ minds is the sentencing last month of Kwame Kilpatrick, the last mayor but one, to 28 years in prison for corruption.

Reflective of the shift is the support given to Mr Duggan, best known for rescuing the city’s hospital system from near insolvency, by Minister Malik Shabazz, leader of the New Black Panther Nation in the city. He argues notably that isn’t just Detroit but America that has learned to put competence before colour.

“In the last two national elections, African Americans have asked the nation to choose the best person for the job and not get caught up in colour. And twice, Barack Obama has won,” Mr Shabazz said recently. “Now, in Detroit, in 2013, the best man running is a white brother, and that’s OK.”

If Mr Duggan, 55, sails through now it will not be because he had an easy time getting here. He will also face severe headwinds once in office. In the summer he briefly abandoned his bid when opponents sought to disqualify him as not being a bona fide Detroit resident. After backers persuaded him not to throw in the towel, he presented himself as a write-in for the primary election in August. In a crowded field, he won 50 per cent support.

Top row, from left to right: Coleman Young, Dennis Archer, Kwame Kilpatrick. Second row: mayoral candidate Mike Duggan, Dave Bing and Kenneth Cockrel Jr Top row, from left to right: Coleman Young, Dennis Archer, Kwame Kilpatrick. Second row: mayoral candidate Mike Duggan, Dave Bing and Kenneth Cockrel Jr

Exactly why he would want the job is something else. The city is a symbol of decline, whether it’s the thousands of abandoned homes, the swathes of untended city land, the shrinkage of its population (down 26 per cent in 13 years) or the 40 per cent of its street lights that don’t work. Last spring, the state imposed an emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, on Detroit to see if he can reverse the decline and confront debts totalling $18bn (£11bn), essentially sidelining the outgoing Mayor, Dave Bing. A judge is to rule soon on his request that the city be declared bankrupt.

In theory, Mr Orr will be gone later next year, and while both candidates have deplored the bankruptcy filing, which threatens pension payments to thousands of current and retired municipal workers, Mr Duggan, in contrast to his opponent, has promised to try to work with him on finding solutions and not turn his back on him. Among Mr Duggan’s first priorities: persuading Mr Orr not to sell off some of the city’s treasures, including the art collection in its main museum.

A former prosecutor for Wayne County, in which the city sits, Mr Duggan took over the Detroit Medical Centre, the city’s largest single employer, in 2004 when it also faced bankruptcy after bleeding $500m over five years. He returned it to profitability and it was successfully sold to a private hospital concern three years ago.

“I know what it means to bring an organisation back,” Mr Duggan said in his last debate. As he told The Washington Post this week: “A major part of why I have so much support is that everyone in the city understands that if you’re broke, you can’t deliver any services. So I think there is a strong feeling in the city that we need a mayor who can balance the budget and operate the city well financially.”

Bill Ballenger, of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, said: “There is a feeling of total disgust among voters about what has happened to Detroit and there is a willingness to reach out to the most prominent life preserver. And that is Mike Duggan, based on his reputation as a Mr Fix-It.”

If the speeding infractions haven’t hurt him, perhaps it is because of the prouder part of Detroit’s heritage as the cradle of America’s car industry. “It’s a problem I have – I schedule too many things in too little time,” he told a local newspaper. “I’m working very hard right now to slow down, but I have no excuse for it.”

Power struggle: other big contests

It’s an off-year for federal elections, but American voters still face important choices today.

VIRGINIA/Governor: Terry McAuliffe, Democrat fundraiser and best pal of the Clintons, should prevail over Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican with Tea Party backing.

NEW JERSEY/Governor: With one term nearly behind him and high expectations he will run for president in 2016, Republican Chris Christie is clear favourite to win against Democrat Barbara Buono.

NEW YORK/ Mayor: He came from far behind, but with a pledge to narrow the gap between rich and poor, Bill de Blasio is set to be the first Democrat mayor for 20 years.

BOSTON/Mayor: With Tom Menino’s 20-year reign coming to an end, voters have seen the first competitive race in a generation. Democrat Marty Walsh may have a slight edge over John Connolly.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
Arts & Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'
tv
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Jonathan Trott will take a second break from cricket after suffering a repeat of the stress-related illness that forced him out of the Ashes tour of Australia
sport
Life & Style
life
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit