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Duggan defends city support for infant mortality program, won't discuss ties to its leader

Courtesy of City of Detroit, Mayor's Office
Courtesy of City of Detroit, Mayor's Office

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan found himself in an uncomfortable position on Wednesday, as he defended providing city money for a program run by a woman he appears to have a relationship with.

The program is called Make Your Date, and aims to reduce pre-term births and infant mortality in Detroit. It’s run by Dr. Sonia Hassan, a professor and researcher with the Wayne State University Medical School.

Duggan and Hassan are linked by surveillance video taken by a private investigator, which showed them both entering a suburban home on multiple occasions, in Duggan’s case without his security detail. The private investigator was hired by Robert Carmack, a businessman who’s embroiled in a real estate dispute with the city and Duggan.

The Detroit Free Press reported last week that the city has made grant payments totaling $358,000 to Make Your Date, which the report characterized as a non-profit organization. It also documented an apparently truncated effort to launch a city-backed fundraising campaign on Make Your Date’s behalf.

When asked to characterize his relationship with Dr. Hassan on Wednesday, Duggan refused, saying, “I’m never going to talk about my personal life.” But he slammed the premise of the Free Press story as “completely false.”

“Make Your Date is a Wayne State program,” Duggan said. “We never in any way supported or directed a cent to the non-profit. The partnership was with Wayne State University directly.”

Duggan repeatedly returned to the point that Make Your Date does not function as a non-profit, despite being registered as such. He said all city contracts related to the program were made directly with its administrator, Wayne State, and that all outside private donations went to the university’s foundation.

Duggan said he chose to partner with Wayne State on Make Your Date because “Dr. Hassan is one of the country’s experts in pre-term birth. But Wayne State University as a whole, including Dr. Hassan, is central to why we wanted Wayne State engaged.”

Detroit’s Office of Inspector General announced this week it would open an investigation “in regard to Mayor Mike Duggan and the City of Detroit’s interactions with the Make Your Date Non-Profit.” It went on to say that “the investigation will focus on whether the Mayor and/or any City officials potentially abused their authority by providing preferential treatment to the Make Your Date Non-Profit.”

Duggan said he welcomes that investigation, and is “100% confident” it will conclude that nothing inappropriate took place.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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