A Conversation with Mayor Bing

Apr 8, 2011

I went to see Detroit Mayor Dave Bing yesterday afternoon to discuss the state of his city. It’s been a bruising few weeks for Detroit. The census showed a population loss considerably greater than expected - which means a further loss of both federal and state dollars. The governor’s budget has yet to be approved, but it seems clear that it means more cuts in revenue sharing.

Nevertheless, I found the mayor upbeat, candid and energetic. He’s convinced the census missed people, and is going to do all he can to get the count adjusted. But for now, he has to plan as if the number is going to stay at seven hundred and thirteen thousand.

There’s no doubt in his mind what Detroit needs most. “Jobs are the key,” he said. There are some hopeful signs. General Motors, Blue Cross, Quicken Loans and some other firms have announced plans to add jobs recently.  But the city has a long way to go.

When the recession was at its peak, Mayor Bing made headlines when he said that he thought the city’s true unemployment rate was as high as forty-five percent, when you counted workers who are so discouraged they aren't even taking part in the labor force.  What does he think it is now? “Still about the same,” he said.

“There are some signs the country is coming out of the recession, but that hasn’t really translated into jobs in Detroit.”

I asked the mayor, himself a former successful businessman,  about Governor Rick Snyder’s theory that lowering taxes will help bring a new flood of jobs. He smiled. “Well, it should help,” he said.

But he added that maximizing profits doesnn’t always mean adding jobs. The mayor, who took office after a special election following the resignation of Kwame Kilpatrick, has been in office  almost two years now. What does he think is his greatest accomplishment?

He said, “reducing the deficit from more than $330 million dollars to $155 million. Given the economy, that was really a Herculean task.”

Unfortunately, he fears the deficit may now rise somewhat, “if everything in the governor’s budget becomes stark reality.”

I told him there was speculation that sooner or later, Detroit would need an Emergency Financial Manager. “Everything we do here day to day is to avoid that happening,” Bing said. But he knows he can‘t completely rule out the possibility. If that were to happen, would he take the job if it were offered? My impression was that he would. In fact, the mayor added that  the new, tougher financial manager law would make it easier to do some of the things that need to be done.

Whether or not that happens, he intends to keep fighting. He’s already announced his intention to run for re-election in two years; saying turning things around will take more than one term.

If he is re-elected, Dave Bing would be seventy-four by the end of his second term. Does he expect to see a point where Detroit saw true prosperity again?

The former basketball superstar smiled.

He believes in making progress, he said, a layup at a time, not in trying for grandstand, three-point plays. “Solvency. I think solvency is possible.” Prosperity is further away.