The Long Shot
The MT interview with Mike Duggan
Published: July 24, 2013
So people who look at us and say, “Well, gee, there’s no money,” well, we paid for it out of the assets that were sitting there and being neglected. If you look at the police department, you’ve got officers who are dispatching patrol cars, who are sitting in precincts. You’ve got, according to Kevyn Orr’s report, more than 50 officers — literally pencil and paper — filling out payroll; those jobs are done by civilians — at half the price — in other departments. You can’t tell me we are getting all the service we can be out of the dollars that we have. So, before you can talk to anybody else for more money and more help, first you have to prove to them you’re doing everything you can with the dollars you have available. I don’t know anybody who believes the city is performing at that level, so we’re going to start by taking the things that we can control and improving the service, and then we’re going to go from there.
MT: Isn’t that something you may run afoul of the police union over?
MT: And so how are you going to deal with that?
Duggan: Well, I’ve dealt with it my whole life. You sit down across the table. When I took over the SMART buses through the 1990s, when it was going out of business, we had, by benchmark standards, the most inefficient maintenance garage in America. We had the most breakdowns and the most expenses, and so I did what I always do — my first week on the job — I went into the garage to see what’s going on.
There were three cars up on lifts; and three guys, three card tables, people sitting around playing cards at 10 a.m.
I said, “guys, what time is lunch?”
They said, “11:30 a.m.”
“Well, why are you playing cards?” It was a warm day in the spring and they were working on the cooling systems for the air conditioning and they said they’re doing air conditioning today. “So what are you guys doing?”
“I’m the brakes guy; I’m the tiresguy; I’m the transmission guy; I’m the steering guy.”
“So you don’t know how to do cooling systems?”
“Oh, we know how, but that’s not our job classification."
And so, I did what I knew I had to do — I sat down and played cards with them. And I said, “Guys, we’re on the verge of going out of business here and nobody will have a job in this 800-employee organization. Why don’t we have a single general mechanic classification? Where all of you pitch in on doing all of this?”
And they said, “Well, we don’t want that, we’ll need 25 percent fewer of us.”
They’re good UAW mechanics. And I say, “OK, I get that. What if we did this: I know that I’ve got 12 percent in actual turnover in retirements and quitting. What if I give you a two-year ‘no layoff’ guarantee? I’ll get to the 25 percent shrinkage in two years, you give me the general mechanic classification.” By the end of the card game they were in agreement. A week later, I had a signed contract with UAW. All of the mechanics were back on the job fixing all the buses, we got the buses on the road.
We made more revenue in the fare box because we were making schedule. Two years later I got a national award for efficiency in our maintenance garages. But I sat down at the table with the unions and found a win-win. Ultimately, they benefited because we passed a regional millage that has kept SMART alive to this day — and the customers won. That’s what you do. You don’t go in and tell the unions what you’re doing. You say, “OK, You want to preserve your job, I want to deliver service to the taxpayers, how do we get both these things done?” And I’m confident that I can sit with the police union and say, “OK, I want to pay you fairly. I want to give you working equipment because I want to make sure you’re safe. On the other hand, we can’t afford to pay you as a trained law enforcement officer if you’re doing a job that can otherwise be done by a civilian.” That’s the case you make.
MT: A lot has been made of the gentrification in Midtown and some of the construction happening downtown, but most Detroiters don’t live in Midtown or downtown; a good portion of them live in really impoverished areas. Speak to those people and how your administration would bring that type of attention and urban renewal to more desperate areas?
Duggan: The thing is, when you’ve done 170 house parties, I’ve been in those areas day and night; every corner of the city. I sat in the house of somebody who has abandoned houses on both sides of the building where they’re hosting me. … I start with the basic things: Here’s what I’m going to do about the abandoned buildings in your neighborhood and here’s how I think we can get there. They want the police to show up; here’s what we’re going to do to cut the police response time. They’ve got a dump in a vacant lot across the street that nobody cares about — here’s how we’re going to deal with the dump. They have overgrown lots, so here’s what I want to do: I’m going to hire neighborhood kids to cut these lawns. I’m going to bill the property owners. If the property owner pays it, that’s fine, if the property owner doesn’t pay it, we’re going to take the property; I’ll deed it to the neighbor next door or the neighbor across the street so the people can maintain the properties and not some absentee owner who neglects them.
As you sit in somebody’s living room, and they’re talking about this, they come to realize the same thing: The problems facing this city were created by human beings and they can be solved by human beings; these are not unsolvable problems. And that’s the conversation I’m having every day, and it’s the reason why I’ve got 5,000 volunteers signed up in my campaign — all of them at these house parties. I’ve gone into neighborhoods where they’ve said they haven’t seen a candidate for mayor in 40 years on their street. And they all end up signing a volunteer card because they may have started off thinking I couldn’t relate to their problems, but by the time the night was over, they were all thinking, “We want you to come back next year,” and I think they feel good that I will come back next year.
MT: Having experience at the county level and now hoping to move to the city, what lessons that you learned could you bring to Detroit’s relationship with its adjacent counties, as well as the state?
Duggan: I would just start with what I just experienced at DMC, and I say this at every one of the house parties: We need to recognize that the city of Detroit is 8 percent of the state’s population, and if all we do is fight with the other 92 percent we are going to keep losing the same way we have been. We can’t just always attack the other folks. We’ve gotta find a basis for common ground. In 2010, when Snyder got elected governor and the Republicans took control of the House and Senate, there was an initiative by a group of hospitals in Grand Rapids to change the funding for indigent care — to move it out of Detroit and move a significant chunk of it out to suburban and western areas. Everybody said to me, “You don’t have a chance.” The Republicans are in charge of both houses and they’re in charge of the governorship, and the Republican-area hospitals want to change this formula. I got in the car and I drove to the districts of the new chairs of the House appropriation and Senate appropriation committees, one of them in southwest Michigan, another one in Saginaw. And I sat down and showed them how efficiently DMC and Henry Ford and St. John were delivering indigent care in Detroit, and how we were using their money cost-effectively. I sat down with the governor and showed him the documentation that the money was being spent well. And when I finished, the House, the Senate and the governor returned every dollar back to the city of Detroit. I never once attacked anybody; I never called anybody names or marched on anybody. I just — one person after another — sat down and showed them what we were doing. The truth is, there are Republicans of goodwill in this state, there are Democrats of goodwill in this state. We need to build relationships with people of goodwill from both parties and build allies, not always be fighting. And I’ve been successful at every place I’ve been when I did that.
When you go back to the 1990s, we passed the legislation that allowed us to build Comerica Park and Ford Field. … I’ve always been able to work across party lines when we had common interests and I really believe there are a lot of people in this state who want to see Detroit succeed. On the other hand, when Gov. Snyder wanted to lease Belle Isle to the state of Michigan, I was very vocal against that, I thought it was bad document and a bad agreement, and certainly I’ve been very vocal against the emergency manager. So there some issues that on principle you have to take a stand, but there are a lot of other areas where you can find common ground, and I really think we can do it.
MT: One of the ways to secure the future of the city is through young families moving in. The best way to attract young families is through quality schools. How can your administration deal with the failing of DPS?
Duggan: One of the things I think we have to do is be honest with the citizens on what city government can do and what city government can’t do. I don’t think city government is in a position to take over the schools. The next mayor will have so much on his or her plate — to get the police to show up, to get the streetlights on, deal with the abandoned buildings. If you take on the school system, it would all collapse. And so I’m not in favor of the mayor taking over the schools. What I will be is the best partner the Detroit Public Schools ever had. Now what does that mean? Well, in our role, for sure it means that when these children walk to schools, they should have a safe zone where they’re not walking past open and abandoned houses. We’ve talked about it forever, but most elementary schools in this city today still have open and dangerous homes near the schools. We’re going to get those down. I started a program at DMC called Project Genesis where we hired a hundred Detroit Public Schools high school kids to work in the hospitals every summer. So we exposed these kids at the age of 15 and 16 and 17 to careers in medicine. I’d love to see all the companies in this town create those same kind of part-time and summer employments so that these kids can see what the opportunities are. And certainly I think instead of having all these independent rec centers, we may want to be partnering with schools to support after-school activities in the buildings in some kind of true joint program. And so I’ll find ways to partner with the schools, but I just don’t think it’s realistic to think the city can actually run the schools and improve them.
MT: OK, here are a few softballs in the home stretch: What’s your favorite TV show?
Duggan: Well, “Game of Thrones” [on HBO] is way up there.
MT: What magazines do you like to read?
Duggan: I read The Wolverine, I read Sports Illustrated.
MT: And what about newspapers?
Duggan: New YorkTimesevery day, along with the Free Press and the News — and, of course, the Metro Times.
This article was updated on 25 July 2013 to correct an error that ran in the print version regarding the number of white candidates in the mayoral primary. There are, in fact, three white candidates instead of one, which was originally reported. We apologize and regret the error.
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