Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Campaigning to Lead the Ungovernable City

A recent Time magazine cover story on Detroit portrays a city ravaged by the current recession, rendering it virtually ungovernable. Consider: Unemployment currently sits at 30% (!!!); the public school system is in receivership; and the city coffers are $300 million in the red. Whereas Detroit was at one time the country's fifth largest city, it has been hemorrhaging population and now ranks eleventh nationally with just over 900,000 residents. While the auto industry reigned, the city had no incentive to diversify its economy. Now that we've seen the Big 3 teeter on the verge of collapse, this shortsightedness has come back to haunt the region. While a city like Pittsburgh--equally reliant on a single industry a few generations back--has weathered globalization and economic difficulties quite well by becoming a leader in health care and high tech, Detroit is in danger of imploding.

If matters weren't bad enough, Detroit's recent political leadership has been dismal. Disgraced former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was forced to resign in the wake of numerous allegations of corruption, infidelity, and obstruction of justice. Trying to right the ship is Dave Bing, former Detroit Piston and successful business executive. Bing has brought to the job a no nonsense style and willingness to rumple feathers to get things done. Victorious in a 15 person Democratic primary (!!!) to complete Kilpatrick's unfinished term (see results here), Bing is now running for a full term on November 3. In reading the profile's of Bing and his candidacy one gets the sense that while he may not be loved, he may be the city's best hope. Reluctant to glad hand and do the banquet circuit, Bing has alienated a number of the city's key constituencies, including the public sector unions. Nonetheless, most commentary suggests that he'll be victorious nonetheless. Given the work ahead of him, one wonders why anyone would want the job in the first place.

**Above photo via Time.com

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