DETROIT — The new mayor of Detroit was sworn into office today, and despite the New Year’s Day holiday — and his limited powers in an insolvent city whose finances are controlled by a state-appointed emergency manager — he is starting work immediately.
Mike Duggan was holding initial staff meetings at City Hall today after the morning ceremony, continuing the work he has done on Detroit’s behalf since voters elected him in November.
The former Detroit Medical Center chief has attended a meeting of new mayors hosted by the White House, put together his own administration and lobbied with emergency manager Kevyn Orr for a greater role in the city’s immediate turnaround.
“He’s been engaged on issues and has been preparing to hit the ground running,” former Detroit Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel said of Duggan.
So far, mayoral-type celebrations have been muted, something Cockrel said is noteworthy.
“We’re broke. There is no money. Streetlights are still not on. Cops do not come on time,” said Cockrel, who is founder of a government relations advocacy firm. “When you’re in the middle of a bankruptcy, how much celebrating should you be doing? It’s about the city. The most important thing for all of us now is getting the city’s organization and finances in operating order.”
Under Michigan’s emergency manager law, Orr has control over Detroit’s finances. He filed the city’s bankruptcy petition in July. On Dec. 3, federal Judge Steven Rhodes made Detroit the largest U.S. city to enter bankruptcy.
Orr, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in March, says Detroit has at least $18 billion in debt. He’s negotiating with the city’s many creditors and is expected to release a plan of adjustment for Detroit’s restructuring early this month.
Mayor Dave Bing, Duggan’s predecessor who didn’t seek re-election, had complained of his diminished role since Orr was hired.
Duggan announced Dec. 19 that he and Orr agreed to share some of the duties in running the city, with the bulk of financial responsibilities still under the emergency manager’s control.
“You’re going to see a lot of activity, even in the next two weeks,” Duggan said then.
Under the deal with Orr, Duggan takes on blight removal, public lighting and the Fire Department, and will control financial matters relating to the day-to-day function of city government.
“I’m hopeful that with the tools that he was given ... we will see an improvement in service delivery,” said Gabe LeLand, who was elected in November to his first term on the Detroit City Council.
The nine council members already have taken their official oaths of office. Duggan will officiate a ceremonial swearing-in for the council on Tuesday, said LeLand.
The powers of the council also are restricted under the state’s emergency manager law.