Mike Duggan, head of the Detroit Medical Center is considering a run for mayor. In talking with the Detroit Free Press he noted that his chief goal would be Detroit self-determination. Current Mayor Dave Bing hasn't yet formally declared so at this moment Duggan is the most high-profile candidate in the race.

Obviously his presence begs the question.

Could Detroit elect a white mayor?


It's happened in at least one other city–Scott King served Gary for almost three full terms (he resigned in his 11th year in office[foot]King had three children and with the third about to be college-age, he felt he couldn't take care of college expenses on his $107,000/year salary.[/foot]). And although Atlanta isn't necessarily a good case–Atlanta is a majority black city, but unlike Detroit has a significant white population–Mary Norwood came close in the last election only to be defeated by Kasim Reed. It's unlikely another legitimate white candidate will enter the race, while it IS likely a number of legitimate black candidates will. If the run-off is so competitive the losing black candidates are unable to cohere around the black winner, Duggan could win. But this scenario is largely a machine-based one—it assumes that black political mini-machines have enough weight to determine who wins and loses in Detroit politics. And it's not clear they do.

(edited to add: Dorian Warren just tweeted a question to me that made me realize I missed the obvious case of Baltimore. doh! Baltimore's a lot like Atlanta in that it hasn't fully made the transition to an all black city. But like Gary it did elect a white mayor, Martin O'Malley, now governor. Oct. 9, 11:30am)

There are least two other scenarios to consider.

The first is a corporate scenario. Detroit electoral politics are shaped by two large forces–corporations and unions. Their coffers, and their manpower, not only fund candidates but they provide them with the foot soldiers necessary to perform the door to door work that wins Detroit elections. If these two forces put their resources behind Duggan, then even if Bing decides to run, it's going to be difficult. Particularly because Bing is 68, while Duggan is an in his prime 54.

The second is more of a messaging scenario. The Detroit Free Press has a wall that makes it difficult to see articles after a certain date. But if you're reading this on Oct. 9, or at least a week thereafter, please check out the video. Besides the "get the buses running on time" approach to governance, note the use of one key phrase:


Mike Duggan isn't a black nationalist, but he rhetorically supports the one thing that probably unites every black Detroiter–the desire to see the city run itself. That was the promise of black power in the first place, that is one of the reasons why Detroit still remains so compelling to people like me who haven't lived in or around it in decades. If no other candidate can come up with a more compelling vision for Detroit, I don't think Duggan loses. They've been on the neoliberal path at least since Dennis Archer Sr.–Kwame Kilpatrick was it's hip-hop face, Bing was a corporate upgrade. To the extent there's a racial component, why not go all the way?

Now if they DID what would that say?

Here, old school Detroit black nationalist organizers would likely talk about how the "takeover" is complete. "They've" wanted the city back since "they" lost it in 1973. But I'd point the finger–to the extent finger pointing occurs–in another direction. Black political representatives have a twofold challenge–one to represent constituents who very rarely get full representation; two to create a more humane mode of governance. To the extent they haven't been able to consistently do the first, and have rarely done the second, they put themselves at risk of being rendered obsolete.