Detroit’s one and only debate between its two mayoral candidates got very contentious last night, with plenty of personal attacks.
(You can watch the full debate here.)
State Senator Coleman Young II is the underdog challenger. Young said he’s running to help struggling Detroiters who’ve faced water shutoffs, losing homes to tax foreclosure, and various forms of what Young called “racist redlining.”
He accused Mayor Mike Duggan of corruption, ranging from a Medicare kickback scandal from his time as CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, to an ongoing federal investigation into the Detroit Land Bank Authority’s sweeping blight demolition program (Duggan has not been named as a target of the investigation, and some of Young's accusations and data were not entirely accurate).
“And that’s why you should trust me,” Young said. “Because I’m unbought and unbossed.”
Young also accused Duggan of prioritizing the city’s downtown interests over most neighborhoods, and favoring big business investment deals, often financed with generous tax incentives, over investing in most of the city’s neighborhoods.
“He needs to step aside, and let an honest gentleman get the job done for all Detroiters. Go look them in the face and tell them that these neighborhoods are coming back, that you’re making all these investments for them,” Young said.
Duggan shot back Young should “look them in the face” and say “one thing that’s true.”
“A bunch of trumped-up charges, a lot of attacks on me and my plans, from a candidate with not a single plan of his own,” said Duggan, who called Young an ineffective state legislator who’s done little to benefit Detroit from Lansing.
Duggan also staunchly defended his record on neighborhood quality-of-life issues.
He said the city has better police response times, better bus service, and launched an unprecedented demolition blitz on blighted homes, He thinks most ordinary Detroiters are seeing the improvements.
“I know the job’s not done, but if you give me one more term, I’ll do everything I can to build one Detroit for all of us,” said Duggan. He cited a planned $125 million bond issue to restore commercial corridors throughout the city, and other investments to boost neighborhood small businesses and infrastructure.
The two candidates also battled over sky-high auto insurance rates. Duggan is spearheading an effort in Lansing to change Michigan’s no-fault laws, blaming inflated medical costs and the state’s generous coverage for accident victims for the high rates. Young blames red-lining based on racial and economic criteria, and pledged to “sue insurance companies over rates”—something Duggan dismissed as completely unrealistic.
Crime was another heated point of debate. The FBI named Detroit as the nation’s most violent city this year, based on statistics Police Chief James Craig has disputed. Young accused Craig of “fudging” some numbers, and Duggan, a former Wayne County prosecutor, of “prosecuting mostly black and brown men” for minor offenses. Young pledged a public health-driven “violence as a virus” approach to crime.
Duggan admitted crime is still a major problem in Detroit, but defended Chief Craig and his administration’s approach. He said they’ve deployed more officers on the streets with a neighborhood policing strategy, and partnered with some businesses on a “Green Light” surveillance program that’s reduced crime in some areas. He again dismissed Young's ideas as poorly-conceived and unrealistic.
Duggan is Detroit's first white mayor in decades, and Young has also accused him of being insensitive and dismissive of some major concerns for African American Detroiters, particularly water shutoffs and tax foreclosures. The city is about 80% African American.
Duggan denied that, saying there's been progress on those issues. And the mayor is very popular with a large swath of black Detroiters, winning his first mayoral primary as a write-in candidate before defeating Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon in 2013 to become mayor.
Despite seeming visibly flustered at points during last night's debate, Duggan is still a heavy favorite to win re-election. He beat Young handily in the August primary, and has raised far more money on the campaign trail.