Will the Detroit Mayor Run for Re-Election?

Detroit's Dave Bing has taken the first steps towards exploring a bid for reelection. An already crowded field will mean an uphill battle for the unpopular mayor, who has taken blame for the city's financial meltdown that led to a state-takeover.
by | April 26, 2013

By Matt Helms and Joe Guillen

Standing by his belief that an emergency financial manager was the right move for Detroit, Mayor Dave Bing said Thursday he considers himself just the kind of cooperative leader -- despite limited powers -- that the city needs in an all-hands-on-deck effort to pull the city back from the brink bankruptcy.

Just don't ask him yet whether he plans on sticking around for four more years.

It's a question he again didn't answer fully in an afternoon of vintage Detroit political theater, with dueling press appearances delayed by a brief evacuation of City Hall because of smoke in the basement.

Even after he pulled paperwork for nominating petitions to seek a second full term, Bing continued to equivocate Thursday on whether he'll run again, a declaration he has declined to make for months.

His potential entry into the race could muddy what had become, at least in early polls, a two-person race between Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan, with other candidates and an undeclared Bing trailing in the distance.

Political consultant Greg Bowens said he considered Bing's move "a trial balloon to see how viable a Bing campaign could be" amid deep voter skepticism of, if not outright opposition to, re-electing a mayor under whose watch the city went into state receivership.

"He'll find out in a few days whether or not he'll be able to build some support for re-election," Bowens said. "It wasn't that long ago that he was getting booed out of community meetings."

Bing, 69, said he's a competitor ready to fight and pulled the nominating petitions to meet deadlines so that he can wage a full campaign -- if that's what he decides to do.

"When I make the decision to get in it, then, yes, I'm in it to win it," said Bing. "But at this point, I think everybody needs to realize that this is a huge decision for anybody that's going to run. If you haven't been here, you've got no idea what it's like, even in good times."

Moments into Bing's appearance at the city clerk's office Thursday -- after his aides sent out a cryptic news advisory that drew a big crowd of reporters -- Tom Barrow waltzed into City Hall to deliver 3,300 signatures for his campaign for mayor.

Barrow, who formally announced his fourth candidacy for mayor at a kickoff Thursday night, ran against Bing in 2009 and lost by 20,000 votes, results that Barrow unsuccessfully challenged, alleging irregularities. He repeated the claim Thursday and said it should have been him filing signatures for a re-election, not Bing.

"I'm delighted that he's in the race, and I think it's going to be a real campaign," Barrow said of Bing. "We're here today because I believe the city of Detroit wants a change."

Moments later, mayoral candidate Lisa Howze, a certified public accountant and former state representative, turned in 747 signatures, saying afterward: "We've got a great campaign, we've got great people surrounding me as a part of my team, so we're looking forward to bringing change to the city of Detroit." Candidates need 500 signatures to have their names on the ballot.

Bing, a former NBA star turned business owner, said he's not afraid of competition from a wide field of candidates or the hits he has taken among some residents for his handling of the city as its financial condition deteriorated to the point that the state appointed Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr.

Bing's decision on running again has been a closely held secret. In that void, a large field of contenders has shaped up, including Napoleon, Duggan, Barrow, Howze, former top Detroit city attorney Krystal Crittendon, and state Rep. Fred Durhal Jr. A spokesman for Duggan's campaign declined comment on a potential Bing candidacy. Jamaine Dickens, a spokesman for Napoleon's campaign, said only that, as an incumbent, Bing "has every right to run for re-election. He should have the opportunity to make the case for himself if he so chooses."

Lansing pollster Steve Mitchell said Thursday that Bing would need to mount an impressive comeback to make it past the August primary.

"If Duggan and Napoleon are in the race, he does not make the runoff," Mitchell said. "Bing is now so unpopular that he could end up in the middle of the also-ran pack."

Mitchell's firm, Mitchell Research and Communications, conducted a survey in late February that showed Bing trailing both Duggan and Napoleon. Mitchell said voters are likely to blame Bing for Detroit's financial mess.

"The executive always gets the credit if things go well," he said, "and the blame if it doesn't."

Bing was first elected in May 2009 in a special election to fulfill the remainder of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's term. In November of that year, Bing defeated Barrow, an accountant, for a full four-year term. Barrow officially launched his campaign at a rally Thursday night at St. Maron's Banquet Center on the city's east side.

Bing's entry would make for a full battle for limited financial support, especially from downtown business owners, many of whom supported him four years ago and were a part of his turnaround management team of advisers.

Bowens said many downtown business leaders have backed Duggan, and one of the key unanswered questions now is whether Bing can maintain support from that crowd, even after he announced in recent weeks at least $22 million in donations from companies and nonprofit donors for a fleet of new ambulances and police squad cars and to keep open city parks that were in danger of closing.

"Now we'll find out whether that support for the city will turn into campaign support for him as mayor," Bowens said. "The two are not always one and the same."

(c)2013 Detroit Free Press