Detroit: Not about race, but about race

| November 23, 2013
Brenda Robinson

Brenda Robinson


Detroit elected a new mayor several weeks ago. He is 55-year-old Mike Duggan, a former prosecutor and Detroit Medical Center chief executive. He moved to Detroit, from Livonia, Mich., a year ago, to run for the job, but at that time a residency issue forced him to withdraw from the race. He re-entered the race, and of course, he won.

There is nothing strange about Duggan’s resume. However, there is something strange about his win. He is white and won in a city that is 80 percent black, and he won 55 percent of the vote. He defeated Benny Napoleon, a black man, and the Wayne County Sheriff. Duggan’s win was unprecedented. For the past 40 years, Detroit has elected a black mayor. Let’s examine the historical voting patterns, speculate as to why Duggan won and what the win indicates.

The mayor elect said too much is being made of his race. “The city is beyond race,” he said, “the city just wants someone who can turn the city around.” With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, Detroit is not and has never been beyond race. Detroit, like all large American cities, has majority or significantly large black populations. Currently, 80 percent of the 700,000 people left in Detroit are black. Detroit last had a white mayor in 1974. The 20 years preceding the 1973 election of Coleman Young, the city’s first black mayor, made Young an expected winner.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

The last time a white mayor was elected, Detroit had a black population of 44 percent of a population of 1.5 million. Then, “about race” escalated. Following the 1967 Detroit race riots, “white flight” increased. The trend of “white flight,” however, had already begun. In the early 1950s, 1.8 million people lived in Detroit, but that number had declined in the late ’50s as suburbia living had begun luring whites out of the city. Simultaneously, declining jobs at the three major car companies and a smaller city tax contribution by the companies, led to crime increases and academic decreases. These two factors translated into more departures for those who had the means to do so. In that blacks were already victims of prejudice, racism, and other issues, which disproportionately affect disenfranchised citizens, the majority of those who remained in Detroit were black. Unlike their white counterparts, the majority of blacks neither had the money, nor the clout to exit the city.

Let’s further examine the issue, focusing upon voter turnout. Reportedly, about 25 percent of eligible Detroit voters turned out to cast ballots. Some analyst suggested low turn out, at least to some degree, suggested about half of the eligible voters did not prioritize one candidate over another. In addition, some pundits believed Duggan won because the mainstream media did a “good” job of persecuting former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and some blacks resorted to “one black messed-up and we don’t want another.” Other pundits concluded the opposition, Napoleon, would favor stopping violence over increasing economics and the voters wanted the reverse, believing Duggan would deliver.

There is some truth in all of the speculation. There is fallacy, however, in overlooking race. When voters went to the polls they certainly selected the candidate who they believed had the best credentials to serve the best interest of African Americans.

Consequently, there are some expectations of the mayor, due to staggering realities. One-third of Detroit residents receive some type of public assistance and about 35 percent are at poverty level. Unemployment is at 30 percent, and some public officials contend the rate is closer to 50 percent. Money and resources have been poured into midtown and downtown, while neighborhoods are in decay. The residents have lost faith in the police and fire departments because of the unchecked violence and facilities burning with minimal or no fire services. The new emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, with the blessings of Republican Governor Rick Snyder, has cut social programs. And, outgoing mayor, Dave Bing, said he was excluded from appointing department heads and budgetary input, while extravagant dollars (reportedly, $62 million allotted for consultants) were spent on lawyers and advisers.

The new mayor would serve the citizens of Detroit if he discontinued the “not about race rhetoric.” It is about race! Detroit in more than three-fourths black and therefore brings forth the problems most minorities encounter, particularly in large cities. Voters, including black voters, seek to elect politicians who represent their constituents. The mayor elect is expected to operate in the interest of black people, even when Snyder and Orr may disagree.

So, let’s get busy Duggan. You can show us better than you can tell us.

Brenda Robinson is an NNPA Emory O. Jackson award-winning columnist for Frost Illustrated.

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Category: Opinion

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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