Back to the Front
The MT interview with Fred Durhal Jr.
Published: July 24, 2013
A vestige of old-school Detroit politics, state Rep. Fred Durhal Jr. has been a part of the city’s political class for more than 30 years, and an activist for even longer. As a sitting member of the state House Appropriations Committee, Durhal is keenly aware of what it means to bring home the bacon.
Metro Times: Why do you want to be mayor?
Fred Durhal Jr.:I want to be mayor because of the fact that I grew up in the city of Detroit; I’ve spent all of my adult life here as well. I’ve been experienced in the mayor’s office; I was an assistant to Mayor Coleman Young for 12 years.
I know how city government [works] because I used to be a city employee; I’ve been both an appointee and a civil servant in the Department of Health and the Department of Housing, so I have a broad familiarity with city government.
I’ve served on four levels of government: city, county, federal and state. I’m the only candidate in the race who can say that. I’m the only candidate in the race who can say that he’s brought back money to the city of Detroit in his function.
… I think [as far as] the leadership in the city of Detroit, the wheels have come off the car and we need to put them back on. This city should not be in the condition that it is physically; it should not be in the condition that it is financially. And this is why I’m running because I believe I have the tools, I have the integrity and I have the concern to make it a better city.
MT:What skills do you bring to the executive office that would help you execute the job?
Durhal: First of all, experience. I’ve been in the mayor’s office before — I know how it functions and I know when it’s doing well and when it’s not. I’m former deputy director of the Detroit Charter Revision Commission, which helped write not just this present charter, but the one before it. So I’m very familiar with how the charter relates to what the government of the city of Detroit does.
In addition to that, because I’ve been on four levels of government and served in varying positions, I understand the interplay between the city and the state, the city and the county, and the city and the federal government. We need a person in office who can easily traverse those three levels of government.
… As a state representative, I am the only African-American who is on the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives — have been ever since I’ve been elected — and so I am very familiar with budgeting. We approve and put together a $54 billion budget; the city of Detroit’s budget is $3 billion. So I don’t think that’s particularly hard for us to deal with.
What is hard is that a number of systems in the city government have broken down, and that’s why we have partly some of the problems that we do in terms of reporting and getting things done in an efficient, effective way.
MT: Given your experience in the state House — and that your colleagues across the aisle are directing the show — how can your legislative position be leveraged to the benefit of the city of Detroit?
Durhal: I think that’s a great question. I’m one of the few Democratic legislators that have passed bills in the Republican Legislature in the last session; I had four bills that became law.
I’m very well respected on both sides of the aisle, by leadership and by the individual representatives, so I think we need that kind of respect when the city needs some help, or the city needs some guidance, and we need to go and be able to talk to the leaders who can make it happen.
MT: Anyone in the minority who can speak civilly of working under the current legislative leadership must have some people skills.
Durhal: It’s difficult some days. I will really tell you that some days it’s more strained than others simply because of the fact that members of the Tea Party are the very extreme rank of the Republican Party. All of them are not like that. Some are very reasonable — some are moderate — but you’ve got that group that has kind of a stranglehold on the Republicans at this point and they are very difficult to deal with; but I’m able to talk to them and sometimes we can talk sense into them, and sometimes not.
MT: What are some of the weaknesses you would have to overcome in order to be a successful mayor?
Durhal: That’s a great question. I think that obviously, dealing with the emergency financial manager is going to be a difficult thing to do, especially if you come there and you want to articulate the feelings of the people that elected me to office.
I think that we will be able to get along — I’ve met Mr. Orr and dealt with him on several occasions. He seems to be reasonable in conversation, but as we start talking about tearing into a $380 million operational deficit and the $16.9 billion structural deficit, then we may have some sharp differences of opinion in terms of what needs to happen.
As a weakness for me, I would think that my weakness is that sometimes I may bite off a whole lot more than I can do. I’m very aggressive about getting things done and I think sometimes I might do that.
I think the other weakness for anybody coming in for mayor is going to be the lack of money to be able to put a plan into effect because of the problems we have with revenues in the city of Detroit.
MT:Instead of asking why you want to be mayor, we could ask why you want to be Daniel?
Durhal: Yeah, walking in the lion’s den. And that has nothing to do with Kevyn Orr — it could be anyone in his position; I think that it’s a big bite. And that’s why I’m running because I think I’m able to do it; I’ve been there before as an assistant to the mayor, so I understand how it functions.
But yes, the person who takes that office January 1 of is going to have momentous problems sitting right in front of them, and who’s to know what’s going to happen between September and January, which could even affect it more if we go into bankruptcy [Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to the city’s Chapter 9 filing.].
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