Detroit Mayor gets a lot from Lansing in his first six months, but will it last?

Jun 27, 2014

It’s been almost six months since Mike Duggan took over as mayor of Detroit. He took over a city however, run by someone else: state-appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

But, that doesn’t mean Duggan has been denied all the rites of passage of the job including the schlep to Lansing to ask the state Legislature for something. Every mayor has to do it. And Duggan had to go to Lansing with a really big ‘ask.’ We’re talking about the $195 million dollar rescue package for his city (that’s right, ‘rescue,’ ‘settlement.’ Just don’t call it a ‘bailout.’)

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta
It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Getting the Republican-led state House and Senate to go along with sending almost $200 million dollars to a Democratically-controlled city was not an easy task.

Along with Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Duggan’s mission was to get those millions from Lansing and pool it with the millions put up by businesses and foundations to safeguard the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts and lessen cuts to Detroit retirees’ benefits.

Duggan had to satisfy skeptics that the Grand Bargain was a good deal. He also had to keep critics at bay who said the city was giving away too much of its power to a financial oversight board.

In order to get the Detroit legislation passed, Republicans demanded accountability. They wanted less political power invested directly into the city when it comes to any sort of assistance for Detroit.

With Election 2014 on the horizon, Republicans (you know, the ones who control the state House, and the state Senate) were also not particularly interested in the idea of voting to send millions of dollars to Detroit and then going back to explain their votes to their constituents over the summer recess.

Enter, Mike Duggan, a new mayor with no real official power of his own begging the Legislature not to dissipate that power (as well as that of the Detroit City Council) even more.

But let’s not be dismissive. Duggan still brought a lot to the game. First of all, the man’s got skills. Duggan may be the new mayor of Detroit, but he is not new to the political rodeo circuit.

Before he was mayor, before he was a hospital CEO, even before he was an elected county prosecutor, he was “Mr. Fix-It” for the powerful Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara. McNamara was Michigan’s last really successful machine politician. That is to say, Duggan certainly knows the art of the deal.

He also has those ever-important relationships. It’s easy (but lazy) to simply divide the political world into the Republican column and the Democratic column, or liberals versus conservative. In fact, there are many commonalities that can bring people together (or drive them apart) in the political realm.

Duggan is a centrist Democrat whose career began in Wayne County’s Livonia, turf that’s typically friendly to the political center and doesn’t frown on cross-party alliances. There are Republican lawmakers who actually fundraised for Duggan when he was running for mayor-- helping him become one of the most significant Democratic politicians in Michigan.

Another significant point: Like it or not, Duggan did not come to the negotiations over state money for Detroit with union baggage. When Duggan ran for mayor, the unions backed his opponent, Benny Napoleon. That fact alone made Duggan more acceptable to Republicans, and it was liberating in the sense that he didn’t owe the unions any favors as he negotiated the city’s role in the settlement. (Winning clearer conditions for the city to regain direct control over its budgeting, and a place for the city council on the financial control board.)

Mike Duggan has by no means made his final official schlep to Lansing. There are just too many policies and laws (taxes, for example) that are Detroit-specific. The good news for the nascent Duggan administration is the new mayor now has a successful history of working with Lansing.

But a lot of the relationships that were key to that success in his first six months are coming to an end because of term limits. That includes key allies like Walsh and state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. In fact, three of the four legislative leaders in Lansing are leaving after this year.

That means Duggan’s heading toward a rebuilding year when it comes to his relations with Lansing decision-makers.

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