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Despite a self-inflicted uphill battle and some last-minute ballot mischief, former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan did something unprecedented: win this week’s Detroit mayoral primary as a write-in candidate. Mr. Duggan now heads for a showdown in November with Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon to lead the largest American city ever to file for bankruptcy.
A proven manager in the public and private sectors, Mr. Duggan may be the man for the job. The next mayor’s powers will be limited under the city’s emergency financial manager, Kevyn Orr. Even so, November’s mayoral election could be the most important in Detroit history.
Fiscal stability, while necessary, won’t ensure Detroit’s long-term survival. The next mayor will have to act immediately to improve — or at least maintain — city services and lay the groundwork for population stability and economic growth. The city must stop hemorrhaging population, especially working and middle-class residents who bolster the tax base.
Mr. Duggan became president and chief executive of the Detroit Medical Center in 2004. He can be gruff, blunt, even nasty. But he helped return the DMC to profitability.
As deputy Wayne County executive, Mr. Duggan rescued a struggling suburban bus system. As county prosecutor, he worked with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials to reduce violent crime. He gets things done.
Detroit voters apparently recognized that. On Tuesday, in a 16-person field, Mr. Duggan trounced an overconfident, almost cocky, lead opponent.
He got 50 percent of the vote — all write-ins — to Mr. Napoleon’s 30 percent, despite an attempt to confuse voters by placing a 31-year-old barber named Mike Dugeon on the ballot as another write-in candidate. Mr. Duggan had to run a write-in campaign after another candidate challenged whether Mr. Duggan had lived in the city for a full year, as required, before he turned in his campaign petition signatures.
Mr. Duggan’s strong showing refutes the notion that Detroiters are imprisoned by racial politics. In the past, Detroit voters elected a proportionate number of white judges to the city’s former Recorder’s Court, and made former City Council President Maryann Mahaffey a top vote-getter. Now they have made a white write-in candidate — who moved to Detroit from a suburb just last year — the first-place finisher in a mayoral primary.
As many as 15,000 people a year continue to leave Detroit for better schools, safer streets, more convenient shopping, and lower insurance rates and taxes. Once the nation’s fourth most-populous city, Detroit had nearly 2 million residents in the 1950s.
Today, its population stands officially at about 700,000, but the real figure is probably closer to 650,000. Those who remain are mostly poor. One-third of Detroit’s 139 square miles lie vacant.
Long-suffering Detroiters know they face an uncertain future that will almost certainly include municipal layoffs, sales of city assets, higher fees, and the scaling back of already woefully inadequate services. In propelling Mr. Duggan to the general election, Detroiters showed they understand they need a mayor who can manage the city as well as lead it.