The Race Is On

The field is set. And the post positions have been drawn. So who has the inside track in the Detroit mayoral derby? The WDET news team handicaps some of the leading candidates.
Illustration by Darcy Muenchrath
Editor’s Note: Moving Target: Mayoral Horse Race!
After the July edition of Hour Detroit went to press with the story below, mayoral candidate Mike Duggan withdrew from the race, then announced he would mount a write-in campaign. Duggan initially ended his campaign after the state Court of Appeals upheld a Wayne County Circuit Court ruling that he was ineligible to run for office because he violated the City Charter’s residency requirements. All we can say is stay tuned for the August 6 primary!

Covering politics can make even the best reporters fall into the horse racing metaphor trap. The clichés flow from the keyboard so often that we now routinely criticize the “horse race” nature of our political debate, all while secretly salivating at the thought that a new poll will be released in a couple of days. Sure, sometimes we slip in a boxing reference, but they just don’t work as well. Think about it: Politicians and ponies share way more than we might realize. Candidates and horses are judged on things like bloodlines, pedigrees, physical stature — even their teeth. After that, we look at who trained them … and whether they have the sponsors to get them to the big race. Then we find out which jockey or campaign manager is going to actually ride the candidate to victory. Mix in a dash of spectacle, some predictions, a little bunting, and a lot of cash, and you might as well be at the Kentucky Derby. So, to beat my fellow journalists to the punch, I thought I’d try to use them all up in one setting. I sat down recently with WDET news director Jerome Vaughn, and WDET morning host Pat Batcheller to handicap the race.

CF: The filing deadline has passed, the field is now set. Twenty-two candidates make up this year’s field in the Detroit mayoral derby. But it’s the late scratch we need to talk about first. Incumbent Dave Bing has decided not to run. He was a contender, perhaps not as strong a contender as he once was … perhaps a leg injury?
PB: [laughing] Perhaps, or maybe he just figures it’s time to hang up the cleats — or the horseshoes — and turn things over to another new young stud — or filly, as the case may be, because there are a number of women seeking the office, as well. What’s surprising is that he upset the betting board when he decided to enter a different sweepstakes for Wayne County Executive, which looks like a two-horse race.

CF: Two lame horses?
JV: He looked at it, looked at the odds; maybe he’s 10-1, or 15-1 …
PB: You don’t want to be the longshot when you’re the incumbent.

CF: Well, let’s look at the candidates who are in the race. We can’t get to all of them, and for many, there just aren’t enough races under the belt of some of these candidates to really know what they bring to the table. So let’s look at the candidate who entered early and got off to a good start before the gates even opened: Mike Duggan, trained by Ed McNamara.
PB: The D. Wayne Lukas of Wayne County politics.

CF: Let’s talk strengths and weaknesses.
JV: Well, Duggan’s been touting his experience all along. He’s got prosecuting experience … he’s got executive experience as former deputy to McNamara. He’s got executive experience with the Detroit Medical Center and the SMART bus system. He’s dealt with government, legal issues, and reviving entities that have problems. That’s why odds on him might be 3-2.
PB: Yes, Duggan’s one of the favorites, to be sure. One of the things he can hang his hat on with the DMC is that, as he tells it anyway, is that he went to Vanguard and convinced them to come here and invest the money that they’ve invested. We’ve all seen the new construction at the Detroit Medical Center and the commitment that they made to Detroit. He can tout that as an accomplishment.
JV: I think there are some things his opposition is going to come after him about. I was moderating a mayoral candidate forum, and Tom Barrow really went after Duggan for being an outsider, as someone who has just moved to the city of Detroit recently. I think that’s probably going to be the first tactic against him.

CF: The “carpetbagger” approach.
PB: Yes, the carpetbagger approach. But I also think it’s entirely possible, and I hate to be the one to bring this up, but the color of this particular horse is probably also going to be an issue. I mean, can a white, middle-aged man who has this perception of being from the outside be elected mayor in the era of Coleman Young, Dennis Archer, Kwame Kilpatrick, Ken Cockrel Jr., and Dave Bing? The numbers so far suggest that yes, it’s possible.

CF: Jerome, you brought up Tom Barrow. Three times he has run in this race; three times he has lost. However, he seems to have this way of getting people to believe he’s on their side.
JV: He’s a very engaging guy, he’s passionate … but I think he’s a longshot. There’s not a track record.
PB: There’s a track record of losing.
JV: But the track record is not one of making accomplishments that he can build upon. I think that’s what people are going to see.
PB: On the other hand, in this particular case, the track we’re talking about, the city of Detroit, is a bit of a mess right now … and in horse racing terms, when the track is sloppy, you look at the “mudders” — the ones who do well in the mud. I’m not going to suggest that Tom Barrow will start throwing the mud, but he’s certainly capable of throwing it back.
JV: He has thrown mud. I’ve seen it.

CF: He’s also trying to get some of the horses scratched before the race even begins. He’s already questioning the legality of the Duggan and Napoleon campaigns. So let’s move on to Benny Napoleon. He currently holds a countywide elected office as sheriff, and he’s the former chief of police in Detroit. He seems to be running an effective campaign on social media, and he’s out in the community quite a bit … but he’s got some baggage of his own that opponents will likely exploit … notably the federal government stepping in to monitor the police department while he was chief.
JV: I think you’re right … most of the major candidates have had some dealings with city government, state government, or county government, none of which operate flawlessly, to say the least.
PB: True … but something to consider about Benny Napoleon is that while he’ll also try to paint Duggan as the outsider, the carpetbagger … unlike Tom Barrow, he’s actually won elected office, as county sheriff. That’s the entire county voting, not just Detroit. He’s got some recognition outside the city, some support outside the city, politically, that could help him.
JV: I think he’s got some good ideas. I don’t think that — as much as he’s doing with social media and public events — I don’t think he’s hit his stride yet. I think he’s got some more energy to put into the race in the coming weeks.
PB: And despite the federal consent decree, crime is a huge issue in Detroit. If he can successfully brand himself as the law-and-order candidate, having been chief and sheriff, that could work to his advantage.

CF: On to Krystal Crittendon. The former corporation counsel in Detroit, famously fired after she defied Mayor Dave Bing and challenged the consent agreement between the City of Detroit and the state. She’s in the race and portraying herself as the candidate who’ll fight for the average person in Detroit. Can she make a credible case?
PB: It’s credible with the people who are most opposed to the emergency-manager law. She challenged it and ultimately lost … even though she lost her job over it, she stuck with the case and can say she stuck to her convictions. That could be a strong selling point.

CF: At the same time, Jerome … one of the big problems is that she went out on a limb on this case, and the courts just smacked her down, suggesting that the case didn’t even belong in the courts. So, yes, you can say, “I’m fighting for the little person,” but there seems to be a bit of a quixotic fight here.
JV: Yes, the effort was quixotic, but also maybe it was self-serving. I think there are people who wonder if she was already thinking about how she could use this to her advantage and that so quickly after that episode … she decides she wants to run for mayor, which probably wasn’t on her agenda earlier.

CF: State Representative Fred Durhal is an interesting candidate. He made news recently when he filed suit against the construction of a new bridge. It was also revealed that he received campaign contributions from Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. There may be no connection, but does this hurt him in a campaign?
PB: Not if Matty Moroun gives him enough money. [Laughs] If Matty Moroun or his associates help bankroll Durhal’s campaign, he could do a lot of things with that money. Without that, I don’t see him raising enough money to challenge. Does he have the staying power to run with the favorites?
JV: I don’t know that a lot of people are going to know who’s financing these campaigns.

CF: You mean the candidates won’t have to disclose their donors until after the election, and then often don’t disclose them even then? I’m shocked.
JV: What I’m saying is, as people get involved in the race, people won’t notice unless there’s something egregious in there.

CF: The first person to file in this race was former state rep. Lisa Howze. She’s been running for almost two years.
PB: She charged out of the gate and took the position on the rail when she ran the TV spot during the Super Bowl. It was a great ad, with a positive message, and it was a smart move to get her name out there early. I haven’t seen much since. She has some advantages. She’s smart, with a finance background, and is selling a message of hope.

CF: But did she go too hard out of the gate? Is she going to fade in the backstretch?
JV: She got her name out there at a time when most people considered this a two-horse race. It was a lot of money, though. We’ll see if that was all of it.
PB: Another thing to consider: She can avoid getting dragged into the mud battle between Duggan, Napoleon, and Barrow. If she can hang back a little bit, and stay somewhat clean, she might be able to make a late charge.

CF: Remember, there’s no “show” in this race. Just a “win” and a “place.” So let’s set some odds … who’s on the plus side … say a 2-3 shot?
JV: I think you can say Duggan is 3-2, Napoleon is 2-1. The question is: How does the rest of the field skew the numbers?
PB: Right now, I’m going to handicap Benny Napoleon as a slight favorite to come out on top in the August primary, at 3-2. I think Duggan or Barrow could be close seconds. You can’t rule out Tom Barrow. He only lost the last race by 20,000 votes.

CF: He says he didn’t lose the last race.
PB: That’s another question … be that as it may, he’s been through this before. But I give Duggan a slight edge to place. That said, there’s an old adage in horse racing: When the money’s split between the favorites, bet on the longshot.