The Race is Over

WDET’s news team recaps the Detroit election, discusses governance in the emergency manager era, and more
Illustration by Darcy Muenchrath

Detroit’s mayoral race is complete and was dominated by Mike Duggan, who takes office Jan. 1. What many predicted to be a tight contest turned out to be a runaway for the winner, finishing a full 10 lengths, er … points ahead.

But nothing about this race was easy for Mike Duggan. He was on the ballot, then off the ballot. He waged a historic write-in campaign, one that most said was improbable, if not impossible. Not only did he qualify in the top two, but he also crushed his opponent Benny Napoleon. It turns out the biggest challenge for Duggan wasn’t the race itself, but just getting into the starting gate.

I sat down with WDET’s news director Jerome Vaughn (JV) and morning host Pat Batcheller (PB) to recap the race and discuss what the future might hold. We also touched on the new Detroit City Council, and an interesting ballot question in Ferndale.

/// CF: Let’s begin with Mike Duggan. The last time we talked about this (July 2013 Hour Detroit), he was firmly on the ballot. Then he was off the ballot, wins the write-in campaign, and of course, wins by 10 points on election night. Not exactly a smooth race for Mike Duggan, Pat, but he finished it.

PB: He finished it. Although he kind of stumbled out of the gate, as you mentioned, with the question over residency.

/// CF: More than a stumble. They almost had to take his candidacy out and shoot it.

PB: (laughter) I wouldn’t go that far. That’s a … bit extreme.

///  CF: Horse race analogy, here, right?

PB: Yeah, OK. But they don’t do that anymore. They have a little thing that they put in the back of the neck. You know, it’s a lot less painful. But, I’m digressing from the track here. After winning the write-in campaign and getting things on track, things really did start to come together nicely for Mike Duggan. He pulled away down the stretch and most of the money was on that particular horse. We saw a lot of ads for Mike Duggan during the course of the campaign. A few that took shots at Benny Napoleon. I don’t remember seeing a Benny Napoleon spot on the air, or as many signs around town. You know, I wonder if being that it was only a 10-point margin, I wonder if Benny had better financing, if it had been a closer race from the start.

JV: I think it might have been. I saw in my neighborhood and in the neighborhoods that I tend to be in, I saw Benny signs really show up in the last three weeks or so of the campaign. They started coming out in sort of the same way that he started the race kind of slow and then really picked up steam, you know, really in that last week. And many people were saying, you know, if you had campaigned like this much earlier on, you really could have had a better finish.

/// CF: So, yes. The strategy of pacing yourself and hoping for that late charge only helps if you’re within 20 lengths.

JV: Yes. The last poll that came out a week before the election showed that still there was 23, 24 percent of people undecided. Not that that necessarily would have made a difference if they had all gone to Benny Napoleon because that same poll showed Mike Duggan with 51 percent of the vote.

/// CF: He finishes this race, right? He wins; but there’s no giant blanket of roses waiting to be draped over him at this point. He now has, of course, the specter of an emergency manager, trying to figure out exactly what his role is here. So, when you look at the first couple of months of a Duggan administration, what’s he going to have to figure out?

JV: I think he’s really going to have to have a lot of conversations with (emergency manager) Kevyn Orr about what he can and cannot do. I mean, uh, Kevyn Orr was just saying at this meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists that he’s willing to let Duggan do what he needs to do to run the city while Orr is still here. But Orr still has to sign off on things. Financially he’s still the one that’s responsible. So they’re going to have to work on their relationship. Kevyn Orr says their relationship is good. Mike Duggan says their relationship is good. But that’s really going to be a key thing, really for the first nine or 10 months of Duggan’s administration.

PB: And Duggan has to make the point to Orr: Look, you’re really only going to be here for a year. I’m here three years after you’re gone, still in office trying to do these things. If you want a smooth transition, if the governor wants a smooth transition, you’ve got to work with me. You’ve got to give me at least a little, you know … let up on the reins a little bit so I can do some of the things I need to do as mayor. So that when you’re gone, it’s not just a sudden shift.

/// CF: Well, the other big thing that he’s going to be dealing with is a new council here in the City of Detroit. Council by district, you’ve got of course two at large members, seven districts now. You’ve got a young council. I believe (many) of them are under the age of 45, which is a very young council. It’s a more diverse council than we’ve seen in a long time here in Detroit. And they’re going to be chomping at the bit to deliver something for their constituents to show that this council by districts has worked. I’m not sure how much they’re going to be able to do. Do they need to temper their enthusiasm here?

JV: Wow, that’s a tough question. I mean, I don’t think they should temper their enthusiasm. That’s what they’re going to need to work through all the problems that are there and not regret having won their races. I think the key thing for them to do is to realize there are a lot of things in flux. To use the horse race analogy, it’s almost like they’re three races on three intersecting tracks and they’re going to have to figure out: How much can I do? What can I go to the mayor to get done? What do I need to do to go to the council to see what I can get done and what do I need to talk with Kevyn Orr about? There are a lot more factors than there usually are.

/// CF: I think this is more like a steeplechase than a horse race here, Pat, because there’s a lot of things to jump over.

PB: Yeah, that may be. But I think it’ll be interesting to see what sort of coalitions form with this new council, as young and diverse as it is. You know, what sort of blocks may emerge, if any, among the newly elected council members.

/// CF: Let’s switch to the suburbs here because, an interesting thing happened here in Ferndale. Ferndale just decided that, um, pot was not something they wanted their police to worry about too much about anymore. In fact, small amounts of marijuana will be legal in that city, as legal as they can be when the county says they’re going to still enforce the federal laws and the federal government says it’s still illegal. This is an interesting sort of navigation they’re trying to do there in Ferndale.

JV: Much like in … I believe it was Lansing and Jackson … you know, I think police departments and some city governments are realizing: All right. Are we spending an inordinate amount of time cracking down on marijuana when it’s something that residents aren’t concerned about? When it’s something that is not the top priority for law enforcement agency locally speaking? And, you know, it’s surprising. Or, maybe not surprising, but it’s really enlightening to see really how many folks in Ferndale said, “Hey, this is all right.”

PB: I think the tide is turning a little bit, too, on how people feel about small amounts of marijuana to begin with. The attorney general and the Oakland County Sheriff notwithstanding, you’re seeing bills getting passed in the legislature trying to make it somewhat easier for people who use medical marijuana to actually use it the way voters in this state overwhelmingly said they should. Keep in mind, the state Senate is predominantly Republican. … It’s a more than 2-to-1 margin and a lot of these bills are coming from Republicans. There seems to be an attitude shift on the right. … A number of Republicans are saying, “We’re trying to be accommodating here.”

JV: I think folks are seeing that while marijuana is still illegal on the federal or state level, you know, when a town like Ferndale lets some use of marijuana happen it’s not turning into Reefer Madness.

/// CF: (laughter) Well gentlemen, let’s leave it there.