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Commentary: Fairness and Mike Duggan

A week ago, everyone believed the Detroit mayor’s race would come down to two men: Mike Duggan, who most recently ran the Detroit Medical Center before its sale to Vanguard, and Benny Napoleon, former Detroit police chief turned Wayne County Sheriff.

Those I talked to were split over who they thought would win, but virtually everyone in a management or leadership role wanted Mike Duggan to win. Not that they loved him.

Duggan has a history of cracking heads to get things done. There are some who say he played too fast and loose back in the nineteen nineties, when he was deputy boss of Ed McNamara’s old Wayne County political machine. There’s also a feeling that Mike Duggan has always been mainly about Mike Duggan.

Yet he was a man who made the trains run on time. There’s no denying he turned the DMC’s troubled finances around before it was sold to a for-profit company, and he ran county political affairs and the prosecutor’s office with cold efficiency.

More than a year ago, he moved to Detroit expressly to run for mayor. He was a carpetbagger who cheerfully admitted it. He did everything he needed to do to qualify to run, and seemed to have a surprising degree of support from poor black people desperate for competence and cops and city services that work.

That’s why the Michigan Court of Appeals decision to kick him off the ballot is so outrageous. This, indeed, not the emergency manager, is a case of disenfranchising the citizens of Detroit.

What the judges did was ignore the spirit in favor of the letter of the law. Here’s what happened. The rules say you needed to live in Detroit for a year before filing to run. Duggan became a registered voter on April 16, 2012. The filing deadline was this May 14.

He collected his signatures properly and turned them in early, on April 2nd. Had he stuffed them in a safety deposit box and waited two weeks, everybody agrees he would have been in like Flynn. But since he turned them in early, he was disqualified.  That makes no sense. There are those today who are saying it was all a setup;  that he really didn’t want to run. That is absurd. Nobody would go through the expense and bother of moving to Detroit and mounting a campaign for the hell of it.

I have never been a huge fan of Duggan’s; I remember the Wayne County days too well. Nor am I completely convinced that Detroiters would have elected a white politician from Livonia.

But I know this. He was the only candidate to project ability and articulate a vision for the city’s future.

Detroit voters are now left with a choice between one man who can only talk about crime; a convicted felon who has lost three times before; a woman who claims the debt isn’t a big problem, a candidate bought and paid for by Matty Moroun, and a fired corporation counsel whose irrationality cost the city millions.

This is, I believe, a tragedy. And what it probably means is that the emergency manager will be here for a much longer time. 

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's Political Analyst.  Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or the station licensee, The University of Michigan. 

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