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If you had bet 10 years ago that in 2014 America would have an African-American president and Detroit a white mayor, you probably would be rich today. But last week, voters in the nation’s most troubled city took the remarkable step of electing a mayor who is neither black, nor until recently from Detroit, nor especially charismatic.
Mike Duggan, a 55-year-old political fixer, has a reputation for turning around troubled systems and budgets. He made the Detroit Medical Center profitable before it was sold to a private group, and repaired the finances of surrounding Wayne County and suburban Detroit’s bus system.
Now, he gets to roll up his sleeves and tackle Detroit. His powers, and those of the newly elected City Council, will be severely limited at least until next October. The city is now run by an emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, and is expected to go through bankruptcy soon.
The real question, however, will be what happens to Detroit after bankruptcy ends and the city emerges, still desperately poor and with far too many jobless people and abandoned buildings. It is hard to see how the city — even freed of its debt burden — can remain solvent, let alone become prosperous.
One intriguing possibility: Merge Detroit and Wayne County, a model that has worked well in Indianapolis. The resulting super-city would have enough wealth and resources to lift Detroit, and its region, out of turmoil.
The Michigan Legislature could mandate such a merger; it may be an idea whose time has come. Although Wayne County suburbs are better off financially than Detroit, county government’s politics are riddled with incompetence and corruption, and the county too may soon need an emergency manager.
The merger wouldn’t be easy, politically or otherwise. But it is hard to see what other long-term options Detroit has.
Mr. Duggan gets high marks as a fixer. If he pulls this one off, he might deserve the Nobel Prize for urban medicine.
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