DAVE BING IS a good and decent man who, four years ago, restored integrity to the office of mayor of Detroit.
Nobody, not even his own worst enemy, has ever alleged that he’s stolen a dime. There has never been the faintest whiff of personal scandal around him. There are those, like me, who have admired him since we were kids — when he was about the only reason to go see the hopeless Detroit Pistons play. He’s never done anything to tarnish that reputation since.
You could argue that Ken Cockrel Jr., who was interim mayor for seven months after Kwame Kilpatrick, was better equipped to run the city in 2009. But the city wanted a new broom. So Dave Bing stepped forth, won four elections in the course of nine months, and got the job.
Since then, of course, the city has been on a downhill slide that has led to the appointment of an emergency manager.
Financial experts I talk to tell me an eventual bankruptcy is more likely than not. The population is still declining, there are fewer cops than ever, and services are bad to nonexistent.
Dave Bing, like virtually any other politician, would probably say little or none of this was his fault. The difference, however, is that unlike most, Bing would essentially be right.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t made mistakes. I think he should have shifted resources to get more, not fewer, police on the streets, by any means necessary.
He sometimes hasn’t been forceful enough: He has run a chaotic administration and appears not to have even tried building a working coalition with City Council. (Granted, near anybody except the Mad Hatter might have found that impossible.)
To a sorrowfully large extent, his job was pretty much a matter of arranging the deck chairs, decades after the ship started smashing into iceberg after iceberg.
Way back in 2005, Joe Harris, who had just finished a 10-year stint as Detroit’s auditor, told me either an emergency manager or bankruptcy — or both — would be coming by the early years of this decade, no matter what policies were in place.
The numbers, so familiar now, tell the tale. The city has $14 billion to $15 billion in unfunded liabilities, some stretching back before Coleman Young came to power. Since 2004, Detroit has only been able to balance its books each year by borrowing hundreds of millions from future years.
Now, however, the shell game has come to an end, and the teller’s window is closed. Last week, I was copied on an email from a Detroit activist, one Larry Hightower.
Hightower said, bizarrely, that any “reasonable, knowledgeable, and objective Detroiter would rank Dave Bing the No. 2 worst mayor in Detroit’s history.”
He seems to think Bing could have saved the city of Detroit. Well, he might have been able to: If he had renounced his wife, married Microsoft’s Bill Gates in Massachusetts, and used his new husband’s fortune to bail out the city; short of that — no way.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Alan Greenspan and John Maynard Keynes probably couldn’t have avoided an emergency manager had they shown up in 2009. The city owes something like $33 for every dollar of assets it has. The population is poor, undereducated and disproportionately un- or underemployed.
Soon after he won the full mayoral term, I went to see Mayor Bing. He told me with an air of bewilderment that all the budget numbers he’d inherited were largely fiction.
At that point, Bing didn’t even know what the true deficit was; nor did he have any reserves to meet the crisis.
The city has, predictably, gotten worse in the past four years. Voters living hard and desperate lives are voters who tend not to be sympathetic to incumbents, or the status quo.
Mayor Dave Bing has been at his best over the course of the last few weeks by serving as a model of grace and cooperation and helping the city transition to life under Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.
Not saying whether he will run again has made perfect sense, since he will likely lose what political clout he still has the moment he takes himself out of the race.
Last week, Bing turned heads when he showed up to pull petitions for the August primary. He has to make a decision soon; the drop-dead date for filing as a candidate is May 14.
Whether or not he runs, the race for the next mayor of Detroit is likely to come down to a contest between Mike “the pride of Livonia” Duggan, a graduate of Ed McNamara’s Wayne County machine and recent Detroit Medical Center boss vs. Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, a former Detroit police chief.
Mayor Dave Bing doesn’t need to end his career by finishing a humiliating third, down with nonentities like Fred Durhal, Lisa Howze and Krystal (give me a break) Crittendon.
History will, I think, treat Bing more kindly than the press does now. He’ll turn 70 before his term ends, and he had two health scares last year. He deserves a little rest — to enjoy his life and leave knowing he restored integrity to the office.
Many can’t say as much.
SNYDER’S NEWEST ATROCITY
JUST WHEN YOU thought you’d seen it all … Gov. Rick Snyder, the man who created more severely brain-injured victims when he signed the bill repealing the motorcycle helmet law, now wants to drastically limit benefits for those severely racked up in car accidents.
He is pushing a new bill only insurance companies could love. HB 4612, introduced by Snyder stand-in state Rep. Pete Lund (R-Shelby Township), would cap medical coverage for accident victims at $1 million. When that’s gone, too bad.
If you know anything about the cost of medical care, you know a critically injured person can blow through that in a few weeks. These days, the only people in Lansing who can stop Republicans are other Republicans, and victims everywhere may have found an odd champion: L. Brooks Patterson.
The Oakland County executive was badly racked up in a car accident last August, and his driver will be a quadriplegic for life. Brooks called the governor’s proposal “an embarrassment to the Republican Party,” terms echoed by others who actually know and care about some humans who need continual care.
The governor, however, seemed bewildered by the reaction. After all, his proposal would give people a $125 auto insurance rate reduction per car. Bet Patterson’s now-quadriplegic driver is just thrilled about that.
BATTLE OF THE BRIDGE
LATEST COMMUNIQUE: AS I mentioned a few weeks ago, Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun is behind a couple of last-ditch lawsuits — one in state courts, one in the federal system — designed to stop construction of the New International Trade Crossing.
Canadian officials aren’t terribly worried about either, but what does worry them is that while they are paying all the costs of building a new bridge, Congress will have to appropriate an estimated $250 million for a customs plaza at the Michigan landing. You can bet Moroun will be lobbying Tea Party types hard, claiming this is an unnecessary burden on taxpayers, especially when he already has a bridge.
Ironically, it may be up to Snyder and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Tea Party darling who does realize how important a new bridge is, to lobby on the side of the angels.
Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].