The Long Shot
The MT interview with Mike Duggan
Published: July 24, 2013
No stranger to politics, Mike Duggan spent 16 years holding both appointed and elected offices in Wayne County, including deputy County Executive and Wayne County Prosecutor. In 2004 Duggan became president and CEO of the Detroit Medical Center. He resigned his position in 2012 to run for mayor. A technicality kept him off the primary ballot; he has since become a write-in candidate. Duggan holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Michigan
Metro Times: Why do you want to be mayor?
Mike Duggan: I was born in Detroit, lived here as a young boy, went to high school here and worked in the city every day for the last 32 years. I’ve watched the city I love continue to slide in the wrong direction. I just felt like what the city needed was somebody that had done turnarounds before and understood what it was like to deal with a large organization that was on the verge of bankruptcy; understood how you rally employees and establish a strategy — and get [an organization] back to where we’re in the black and delivering services. I started this campaign about a year and a half ago and said to the voters in this community, “I love this city, I love the people here, and I think I can help.” If you agree and you vote for me, I’ll work as hard as I can.
MT:There has certainly been no shortage of roadblocks put in your way.
Duggan:It’s hard enough to convince the small percentage of the electorate that bothers to come out for a primary to give you their vote, and now you’re asking them to not only come out but also write you in.
MT:What types of unique challenges does that present?
Duggan:The challenges are huge, but the people in this town have lived through being knocked down and having bad breaks … obstacles that seem insurmountable in their lives every day far more serious than mine trying to educate people on write-ins. And so I think I’ll be judged on the way that I deal with the setback, but there’s no question the odds are against me. There is nothing on the ballot that explains how to write in [a candidate]. The ballot itself is actually very simple to write in on, if there were any instructions, but there’s not — so we have to educate every single voter before they walk in to the polls that you need to go to the bottom of the listed candidate, find the empty box, print Mike Duggan and fill in the circle.
And so I have to do two things: Continue to tell voters who I am and what my plans are for bringing the city back; and spend an equal amount of time educating them on something that they’re very unfamiliar with because we have not had a large-scale write-in candidate in this community before … it’s a challenge, but we’re dealing with it.
MT:Are there other write-in candidates who won their office that you might be modeling your candidacy on?
Duggan:We’re not necessarily modeling on anybody, but Tony Williams, when he was the mayor of [Washington] D.C. in the early 2000s, hired a company to get his petition signatures handed in. [There were] … fraudulent signatures and he got knocked off the ballot. He ran a write-in and was successfully re-elected. Of course everyone remembers [Sen.] Lisa Murkowski [R-Alaska] when she got beat by a Tea Party candidate in the primary and won a general election as a write-in. We’ve talked to people from both campaigns and gotten their insight. But we’re doing what we do, which is we’re knocking on doors, calling people on the phone, continuing to have house parties and visit senior centers, visit churches — and just over and over show people, here’s the ballot. If you want to write in “Mike Duggan” you go down to the empty box, print in Mike Duggan and fill in the circle. And we’ll see whether it works.
MT:When you’re pressing the flesh and kissing babies, how have you been received given that you are both a write-in candidate and the only top-tier white candidate in a primarily African-American city?
Duggan: Being a white candidate hasn’t been an issue. I’ve done 170 house parties now — so over the last year I’ve been in 170 peoples’ living rooms and basements, church halls, barbershops and beauty salons. When you sit down with people in their homes and just talk, race goes away and you see each other as people. I have been embraced in every corner of the city. I haven’t had a single bad incident. Now, the write-in part, everybody has an opinion on the write-in. Everybody in town knows that I got knocked off the ballot because I filed my petitions two weeks too early, and now I’m having to do a write-in campaign — everybody wants to talk about it, and so it’s had an enormous effect on my name ID, I think. Every place I go, everybody feels like they can come up and talk to me about it. And people are good; a lot of people said, “I haven’t made up my mind yet but I’m glad you’re on there as a choice.” And I get a fair amount of that. I walked out of my headquarters yesterday on Jefferson and some lady waiting for the bus, ran up and hugged me and said, “I’m so glad you’re back on the ballot!” I said, “Well, actually I’m not on the ballot, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
MT:This primary and the subsequent election may be one of the most critical in Detroit’s 300-plus-year history. What’s your take on the implications of this election?
Duggan: The elections of Hazen Pingree and Coleman Young were pretty monumental in this city, and I don’t know if I’d put this one in those categories, but we’re at a point where we can go one of two directions. An emergency manager has never succeeded in this state. We watched Highland Park cycle through emergency manager after emergency manager; we’ve seen Hamtramck cycle through them; we’ve seen Ecorse cycle through them, and I continue to criticize the emergency manager [statute] because there’s no objective evidence that they work. The solution is to put an administration in place that brings in a cabinet and a team that lays out the city’s future in the right direction; so it is important to put this emergency manager thing behind us once and for all. [Detroit] can’t cycle through this again and again. Businesses won’t want to locate here, people won’t want to live here. So the next mayor has to close the chapter of the emergency manager as quickly as possible and then run this city so financially competently that the governor is never tempted to come in here and do this again. If you believe in self-determination as I do, then electing a mayor that can return this city to self-determination is a high priority. I don’t know if it’s quite a historical context as you have it, but it’s going to be important.
MT:It’s historical in that you are running for elected office in the shadow of the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, and whoever becomes the next mayor of Detroit will take office with the emergency manager still in place. What would your relationship be with the emergency manager?
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