Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's Refreshing Pessimism

Can a politician win an election with brutal honesty instead of tantalizing promises? Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is going to try (and almost certainly succeed), ...
by | September 28, 2009
 

Can a politician win an election with brutal honesty instead of tantalizing promises? Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is going to try (and almost certainly succeed), as the New York Times reports:

DETROIT -- Gone are the cheery promises of earlier city leaders about how Detroit is on the way back. How some new project downtown is surely just the first sign of a renaissance afoot. How things are not so bad.

Instead, Dave Bing, Detroit's mayor of five months, delivers grim news by the day. Detroit's bus service will be cut, he said, and, 230 city workers will be laid off next week, some among more than 400 layoffs since he took office, and more are possible ahead. Within a week, he is expected to announce how he will -- through elimination, consolidation, outsourcing -- shrink a city bureaucracy built for an earlier, booming Motor City.

"We've got to focus on being the best 900,000 populated city that we can be and stop thinking about, 'We can turn the clock back to the 1950s and 60s,' " he said, referring to a time when the city, still the 11th most populous in the nation, was nearly twice as big. "That era is gone."

Bing's statements aren't an isolated act of truth-telling, but rather part of an informal movement in the Rust Belt. Local leaders in the region are beginning to acknowledge that their cities' population declines are more-or-less permanent and that hard decisions have to be made with that in mind.

Nonetheless, it's a bit jarring to see an elected official speak so bluntly right before an election. Before you (or I) go overboard praising Bing for his honesty, however, it's worth noting that he did win the all-candidate primary in August with 74% of the vote. Certain victory, it seems, can be an effective truth serum for political candidates.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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