D for Detroit

A troubled Motown readies for the first of two mayoral elections in the next six months.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Detroiters go to the polls Tuesday to elect a mayor to finish out Kwame Kilpatrick’s unfinished second term—and then they’ll get ready to do it all over again. 

The prize for the winner is a city in distress. Crime is up; schools are down; and unemployment is at 20 percent. Last year, the Detroit Lions made macabre sports history by turning in a 0-16 season. Chrysler is going into bankruptcy, selling a 20 percent stake to Italian auto giant Fiat—which now has its eye on General Motors’ European division. Outsiders are buying up foreclosed lots in Detroit for pennies on the dollar, and in the wake of his city hall sex scandal, Kilpatrick, once hailed as the hip-hop mayor, might have 99 problemsbut jail is no longer one of them. 

So which hometown hero will Detroiters call on? 

Ten years ago, Eminem crystallized Detroit’s blue-collar lament, rapping that he was “tired of not drivin’ a BM” and “tired of not workin’ at GM.” But he only diagnoses, he doesn’t treat. 

What about Suzanne de Passe? The one-time Berry Gordy henchwoman and mastermind behind the greatest-ever rendition of “Billie Jean” could be the right woman for the job if for no other reason than that de Passe once cast Vanessa L. Williams to portray her on screen. That kind of chutzpah might be the only cure for what ails Detroit. 

But for Motor City voters, Tuesday’s election is going to be like taking a multiple choice test after studying for an essay exam. Detroit’s woes come packaged with all the extras, while the city’s leadership options are all base models: 

A. Ken Cockerel Jr. 

He’s the Hillary Clinton in this race—the son of the late Ken Cockerel Sr., a revered figure in Detroit politics. As the sitting city council president, Cockerel was elevated to acting mayor as a result of Kilpatrick’s departure. Generally regarded as solid but unspectacular, Cockerel, who placed second in the primary, is backed by organized labor and Congressman John Conyers 

B. Dave Bing 

He’s the Arnold Schwarzenegger in the race. The former Detroit Pistons star and steel-manufacturing executive has pledged to serve only one full term. He’s endorsed by the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press and Jesse Jackson—but Bing doesn’t actually live in Detroit proper and doesn’t have government experience. 

C. All of the Above 

If Bing, who narrowly won the primaries, prevails, then the city gets both men. Cockerel will return to the city council presidency, and Bing, accustomed to the flexibility of the private sector, will be forced to work with Cockerel to overhaul the city’s bureaucracy.  

D. None of the Above