Detroiters Give Mayor Mixed Grade For First Six Months In Office: Duggan's First Six Months

June 23, 2014

By Quinn Klinefelter

Shortly after he took office, in an auditorium filled with well-wishers, community leaders and members of the City Council, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan set out an ambitious agenda for his Administration.

He also set a timetable.

“Today I want to talk to all those people who are thinking right now about moving out,” Duggan said. “Just give us six months okay? Give us six months to prove that we can turn things around. Just push the pause button and don’t leave that house yet. Give us six months and let us prove to you what we can do.”

Duggan launched programs to privatize and speed garbage pick-up in the city, replace broken street lights and auction-off abandoned homes to those who pledged to repair and occupy them.

But on some Detroit street corners, just how effective those initiatives have been is the subject of contentious discussions.

“He’s helping you all out…give him credit. Give my man credit,” one passerby argued to another.”

“Any mayor, it’s gonna take time to change things,” another answered back.

“You would’ve never voted him in if you didn’t think he was gonna do something.”

“I didn’t vote for him.”

“But you should’ve!”

In the midst of the discussion Detroiter Ann Jones waits for a city bus along busy Woodward Avenue.

She says she’s aware there’s a new head of the city transportation system.

But Jones says she often still waits hours for a bus -- despite the Mayor’s moves to have the system run on a far more regular schedule than in the past.

Jones said, “Well I think he could do a better job as far as this bus system is…It’s terrible. Now as far as some of that business economy, some of that is coming up. It’s getting a little bit better. I would say that.”

“He may be trying…but we still need help. We still need help here.”

Standing next to Jones Detroiter Terrence Foster says he welcomes Duggan’s mere presence at City Hall.

Foster says the new mayoral Administration seems committed to changing the old way of doing business in city government, which he says has been mired in inefficiency and, at times, outright corruption.

“Especially when…it’s messed up downtown. Ain’t you lookin’ for a change? Orwhat are you lookin’ for?”

Further down Woodward Avenue, at a table outside of a Starbucks, Aisha Johnson says she is waiting to see what she calls real change in Detroit’s downtown, midtown AND outer-ring neighborhoods.

She says she has not seen it yet.

“I don’t think a lot has changed and I don’t see any progress being made towards, I guess, his big vision,” Johnson said. “I feel like the city is changing but not for the best. It’s not really changing for the people that’s here -- the people of color I’m specifically talking about. And I feel like we’re more so being pushed out instead of being helped and I guess being made to feel like we should be here.”

Across the table Nicole Yates says she’s heard that the skyrocketing price of rentals is driving some away from the central city core, though she adds she’s not sure what a mayor can do about that.

What Duggan can do, Yates says, is provide the necessary conditions those with a family want in order to consider making Detroit their home.

Yates said, “Hope in the neighborhoods comes when folks take their kids to a safe park. I’ve heard that there are plans to make sure a certain number of play fields have the grass mowed and those sorts of things. But you know school’s gonna be out for a lot of students and I’d like to really believe that they would feel comfortable roaming about the community like most children should. And I don’t know if that’s the case, truthfully.”

Others along Woodward say they appreciate what seems like a faster response time by police.

But Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is in charge of the force, not Duggan.

And some residents complain there’s been little improvement in the Detroit Public schools which, again, Duggan does not control -- though some officials say privately that perhaps the Mayor should be in charge of the district.

But one man in particular says he’s positive the ongoing changes in the city are convincing people to stay in Detroit and are likely to lure new residents.

That man is Mayor Duggan himself.

He said, “I know how it’s going because I talk to people every day who tell me ‘I took my house off the market, we were thinking about moving and we’re staying. My neighbors are fixing up the house -- I never thought I’d see it. I got street lights on my block -- I never thought I’d see it.’ You can go into any neighborhood in the city and there’s no doubt that there’s more of a feeling of hope.”

Duggan says he will spend the next six months focusing on bringing jobs and innovative entrepreneurs to the city.

But that next six months will also likely include the final chapter in the saga of Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings.

It remains uncertain precisely who will be in charge of Detroit’s finances at that time, where officials will decide to concentrate services or what investment will migrate to a newly debt-free city.

But how that situation eventually plays out may do far more to reveal whether Duggan succeeds in retaining residents than any initiative undertaken during the first six months of his Administration.

Find more coverage of Detroit's bankruptcy and its impact on people and neighborhoods on WDET's Next Chapter Detroit blog.

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