Detroit mayor not exactly dream job

by | May 19, 2013 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Detroit mayor not exactly dream job

You get to be in charge, except for the guy who is really in charge. You get to spend the money, but only if the other guy says OK. You get to state your platform, but you may never be able to implement one bit of it.

Why would anyone want to be mayor of Detroit?

Dave Bing, our current mayor, declined to seek a second term last week. When we spoke, the first question I asked was whether he opted out because an emergency manager now hovered over the city like one of those “War of the Worlds” spaceships.

He said no.

He said it was the hours.

He said it was the commitment.

But I don’t believe him.

“I put in 70 to 80 hours a week,” said the 69-year-old Bing. “It takes a hell of lot of energy… and I just wanted to be honest with myself and the people in the city.”

I think he means what he says about the effort. But Bing still has the athlete’s mentality that pushed him through years in the NBA. He admitted he’d be interested in running for Wayne County executive, which doesn’t come free until late next year, when he’ll be 71. If this is really about fatigue, wouldn’t he be more tired by then?

So many leadership issues

It’s no accident that Bing, while considering his re-election plans, told the Free Press he was frustrated by the lack of coordinated effort – or even interest – from Kevyn Orr, the governor’s appointed emergency manager.

It’s no accident that the day Bing said he’s not running again was the same day a new Detroit police chief was plucked out of Cincinnati – not by Bing, but again by the EM.

Police chiefs and mayors are integral to each other. In many ways, they help determine one another’s fate. Having a guy pushed on you is like enduring an arranged marriage. It would not sit well with too many mayoral types. Nor would having to get permission for pretty much every major decision, spending effort or personnel initiative.

But whoever wins for mayor this November, that’s likely what awaits – at least for the early part of his or her term.

And what concerns me is what that does to potential candidates. It’s already a major problem – not only in the city or state, but on a national level – that our best and brightest no longer seek political office. Why should they? If they are at all successful it likely means:

A pay cut.

A bureaucracy they’ve never dealt with.

Scrutiny beyond reason.

Criticism from everybody for everything.

Who wants it? Who needs it? When I asked Bing – a guy who spent years in the public spotlight – the biggest factor in his decision not to run again, he said this: “I’ve got three daughters who love me dearly, and I think (the criticism) impacted and affected them. … I think they all felt that a lot of the criticism wasn’t necessarily warranted.”

This from a guy who, in my opinion, has been as respected and well-thought-of as any Detroit mayor in the last four decades. If his family finds it tough, imagine the next person.

Concern for the future

We all agree that money is the No.1 issue for the city today. And to attract new money, you need the right economic climate; presumably Orr is working toward that.

But you also need a face. People invest in people. Great city comebacks usually involve great faces in charge. How much of a face can anyone put on a city when he or she is not really running it?

Is it any wonder that, with Bing out, the two leading candidates for mayor are longtime public officials with controversies on their records? The constriction of politics often leaves only political animals running.

No knock on these candidates, but that’s a shame. Because new people are needed. Bing did what he did largely because he was not a career politician. But four years proved enough.

You’re the big cheese, except for the bigger cheese. You’re a city boss, under state receivership. You’re elected by the people, but take orders from an appointee.

The best man may have just excused himself. Is anyone expecting a whole lot from the rest?

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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