Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and I have something unusual in common. My brother is one of the state’s leading dog behavior experts; both the mayor’s dog and mine have had an issue or two, and so this week, he is giving both our dogs a tune-up.
By the way, my brother didn’t tell me that; client confidentiality is important to him. Mayor Duggan first told me his Leo was a patient of his at the Mackinac Conference last year. “Well, at best you must be only the second smartest Lessenberry,” he told me on the ferry.
Duggan then went on to tell me my brother Jim had done wonders to make his rambunctious dog a better citizen.
Recently, I chatted again with the mayor, and learned that our two boys were back in reform school. Duggan then told me something else I have never heard before, or since: “I have a picture of you somewhere in a Denby High School homecoming dress,” he said. That is not something I can imagine, or that anyone would want to see; frankly, I don’t have the legs for it.
He then reminded me of one of my more unfortunate predictions. Three years ago, I predicted, quote, “Duggan’s chances of being elected mayor are not much better than (my chances) of being chosen Denby High School homecoming queen.”
Back then, I didn’t believe Detroit voters, the vast majority of whom are African-American, were ready to elect any white mayor. And I was totally, gloriously, wrong.
I began to realize how wrong I was about his electoral prospects more than a year later.
My secretary for years, a proud black woman in her sixties, told me she and her family were strongly for Duggan.
They had seen how he had turned around both service and the bottom line at the Detroit Medical Center, and concluded he was a man who could get things done. Soon afterwards, Sheila Cockrel, the savvy, longtime council member, told me that Detroiters would vote for a purple cow if they thought the cow could get the streetlights on and get the cops to come quickly when they are needed.
Mike Duggan was indeed overwhelmingly elected, and one of his former co-workers at the Detroit Medical Center gleefully put a picture of my face onto a homecoming queen’s body.
There are some things a man should never have to see, and perhaps out of common decency, the mayor never sent it to me.
Today the lights are indeed on in virtually every neighborhood. Crime, especially shootings, is proving a harder nut to crack. But what’s undeniable is that Duggan is out there; in the neighborhoods, signing agreements, making deals. Half Fiorello LaGuardia; half Franklin D. Roosevelt at the start of the New Deal.
He gets it, and he believes, in everything from the M1 rail project’s potential to his ability to train people for jobs.
Detroit is a city that breaks hearts, and has had its heart broken before by leaders who promised much and betrayed the people’s trust. But there is an energy now that I’ve never seen.
If Mike Duggan can deliver anything close to what he believes he can, I will be very happy, to someday, put on that dress.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.