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

Despite bypassing an expensive special election to fill a council seat in 2004, Detroit’s city council approved the special election this time at a cost of an additional $3 million to taxpayers, rather than wait until November. The result is that Bing, Cockerel and anyone else can get right back in the game. Tuesday’s winner only has three months to get a firm grip on the wheel before facing the voters again in an August primary. It’s not exactly a formula for taking partisan politics out of municipal (ahem) affairs. 

Cockerel’s move to sell Detroit’s Cobo Center to a tri-county management authority became the campaign’s signature issue, even though both remaining candidates support the sale: It’s symbolic of long-standing tensions between overwhelmingly black Detroit and its largely white suburbs. The city council defeated the proposal, citing a potential loss of jobs and tax revenue for the city; even though Cobo siphons Detroit’s general fund, and the biggest event held at the aging facility is the North American International Auto Show—the annual coming-out party for a withering industry. 

Council member and mayoral primary contender Kwame Kenyatta summed up his vote for the convention-center sale in a Detroit Free Press op-ed thusly: Hanging on to Cobo “will not improve the quality of life in Detroit’s neighborhoods.” 

Detroit was one of the first major cities to turn to the post-civil rights era generation for a chief executive, but the unraveling of Kilpatrick’s administration only exacerbated the city’s problems. After this election is over, Detroit will still be missing the Cory Booker (Newark), Kevin Johnson (Sacramento) or Adrian Fenty (Washington, D.C.) it needs to refurbish both the engine and exterior of what remains proudly the blackest city in America. 

One day, Detroit may get a mayor who can run an American classic on alternative fuels. This time around, the answer is probably “D,” none of the above.


David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.