DETROIT (AP) – Detroit’s next mayor will inherit a city low on cash and an office low on power, yet nearly two dozen candidates are seeking the job anyway.
In announcing he won’t seek a second term, Mayor Dave Bing slammed Michigan officials for ceding most of his power to an emergency manager who currently controls almost every aspect of City Hall, from spending to hiring.
That arrangement, coupled with a stubbornly high crime rate, blighted neighborhoods and a financial crisis that has pushed Detroit toward bankruptcy, raised an obvious question: Who really would want this job? The answer: the largest field of mayoral candidates in nearly two decades.
Twenty-two people filed to run for the seat Bing will depart in December. Among them are a high-profile sheriff, the former CEO of Detroit Medical Center, several current or former state lawmakers and a perennial candidate who narrowly lost to Bing four years ago.
“My commitment to the city of Detroit and running for office of mayor has been unwavering since the beginning,” said former state Rep. Lisa Howze, who announced more than a year ago that she was running for mayor. “Nothing has changed, even with the appointment of an emergency manager.”
Kevyn Orr is just seven weeks into his job as emergency manager, which gives him authority to balance city books, sell off assets, hire staff and make every decision involving Detroit’s finances.
In some ways, Orr’s presence could reduce pressure on the next mayor, said T.J. Bucholz, public affairs director at Lansing-based Lambert, Edwards & Associates public relations firm.
If Orr is successful, the new mayor inherits a more fiscally stable city. If the emergency manager fails, “there is no one they can blame,” Bucholz said of Orr and Gov. Rick Snyder, who hired him. “They are left to their own devices to a degree.”
Orr was hired by the state in March after Snyder deemed Bing’s pace was too slow. Under state law, Orr has 18 months — or until late September 2014 — on the job before financial control reverts back to the mayor and City Council.
That means the next mayor will get a respite of sorts from tackling Detroit’s runaway budget deficit that’s fast approaching $380 million, more than $14 billion in debt and the specter of bankruptcy. All that’s on Orr’s plate.
“An emergency manager could clear the slate for a new mayor, with all the heavy-duty work already done,” said Ken Cockrel, Jr., a former mayor and current city councilman who is not seeking re-election.
Other top candidates in the nonpartisan primary include Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, former Detroit Medical Center chief Mike Duggan, accountant Tom Barrow, and state Reps. John Olumba and Fred Durhal Jr.
Napoleon, who like most of the candidates is critical of the emergency manager appointment, said he is waiting to see if the move even survives a court challenge.
“If Kevyn Orr’s job is finances, then he should stick to fixing the finances,” said Napoleon, who also served as Detroit’s police chief. “Operations should go to the mayor elected by the people.”
Barrow, making his fourth run at Detroit mayor, pledged to provide advice should Orr seek it but won’t “be carrying anybody’s water.”
“After he’s gone, I will seize control and run (the city) in a manner I see fit that’s best for the citizens of Detroit,” said Barrow, who unsuccessfully challenged Coleman A. Young for mayor in 1985 and 1989, before losing to Bing in a close race four years ago.
He worries that in Orr’s quest to save money and raise revenues the emergency manager will look to selling off or privatizing Detroit’s water, transportation and lighting departments. Belle Isle, a popular island park in the middle of the Detroit River, also could be taken from the city’s hands.
“I don’t see him doing things that are beneficial in terms of bringing services. That’s not what he’s here for,” Barrow said.
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