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Likely the most significant issue for Detroiters in the Nov. 2 election is the mayoral race. On the one hand, we have incumbent Mike Duggan, who won the primary by a significant margin and is leaning into his administration’s many advances for improving quality of life for Detroiters.
On the other hand is challenger Anthony Adams, a former deputy mayor who’s been highly vocal in his criticisms of Duggan. He’s said the mayor has been too focused on downtown business interests and has not shown adequate concern for residents who continue to be burdened by unaffordable housing and a broken infrastructure.
The mayor’s race has also been marked by plenty of drama, with Adams repeatedly demanding a debate with Duggan, while the mayor insisted he will not engage with his opponent, citing “hateful and divisive rhetoric.” Adams has also come under scrutiny in recent weeks for missing a campaign finance filing deadline.
Candidate background and platforms
Duggan, second-term Democratic mayor of Detroit, is seeking another four years in office. He was first elected Nov. 5, 2013, and re-elected to a second term on Nov. 7, 2017. Born in Detroit, Duggan attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for his undergraduate studies and law school. Prior to taking office as mayor, he worked in the Wayne County Law Department and served as deputy Wayne County executive under Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara from 1987 through 2000. He also served as Wayne County prosecutor from 2001-2003 and as CEO of the Detroit Medical Center.
Anthony Adams is also an attorney and is vying to unseat Duggan, with a platform that calls into question the mayor’s commitment to residents. Adams was appointed as deputy mayor of Detroit under former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, was an executive assistant to Mayor Coleman A. Young, served as a board member and general counsel for Detroit Public Schools and served as interim director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
Since 2013, Duggan had been charged with the task of helping the city emerge from its historic bankruptcy, a feat that has been met with both praise and criticism. In his first term, Duggan focused on restoring basic city services for all Detroiters, which included the installation of 60,000 LED street lights, improved police and EMS response times and equipping Detroit police officers with dash cameras and body cameras. He’s continued to expand city services, with programs like installing speed humps on residential streets and regular street cleaning.
His tenure has also been marked by controversy, most notably for his handling of blight, demolitions and city-owned vacant land in Detroit neighborhoods. Allegations that his administration misappropriated city funds and improperly deleted emails also received scrutiny, including a two-year probe from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office that resulted in no charges.
Adams is running on a platform of “we deserve better.” His priorities include reducing crime, police reform, protecting the lives and homes of senior citizens, combating over-taxation, improving public transportation, enacting income-based water billing and tackling structural racism.
This summer, Detour readers told us some of the issues they’re most concerned with going into the election are the spending of federal pandemic relief funds; infrastructure; home repairs, affordable housing and blight; police reform; crime; and the environment. Here’s how the candidates compare.
Federal pandemic relief funds
Under the American Rescue Plan Act, Detroit received $826 million. These funds will help fix our city budget shortfalls, with $400 million to be invested in the city’s neighborhoods. The city’s first order of business under ARPA was to launch a $30 million home repair initiative for seniors and homeowners with disabilities. The effort was launched in response to surveys and public meetings held earlier this year to hear from Detroiters on what priorities they identified as critical needs that need to be addressed through federal aid funding.
But progressives criticized the amount set aside for home repairs as too small, and some, including Adams, protested to urge City Council not to approve Duggan’s ARPA plan.
Blighted home demolition is one of the most significant policies Duggan has undertaken throughout his tenure, starting with a 2014 promise to demolish 40,000 homes. Between 2014 and 2020, the city used $265 million in federal funds to demolish just over 15,000 homes.
The demolition program has been beset by scandal and federal probes, from possible bid-rigging to contractors using contaminated dirt and potential lead exposure risks to kids. The demolition program was transferred from the Land Bank to the city after federal dollars were used up.
Though the program has faced criticism, including from residents, others have hailed Duggan’s efforts to eliminate blight, with some evidence to suggest blight elimination has had a positive effect on nearby home values and crime reduction. Voters overwhelmingly supported Proposal N in the November 2020 election, a bond initiative that will use $250 million to demolish 8,000 blighted houses and stabilize another 6,000.
Adams objected to issuing bonds to pay for blight removal and said Proposal N was brought before City Council with limited transparaceny on its specifics.
Instead, he argued in a 2020 Free Press op-ed, “the best way to defeat blight is to keep people in their homes and create affordable housing opportunities for those who need them.”
One of the largest crises facing Detroit early on in Duggan’s tenure was tax foreclosure, with more than 100,000 homes foreclosed due to property tax delinquency between 2012 and 2017. In many cases, people were kicked out of their homes even though they would have qualified for poverty exemptions on their tax bills or they were overtaxed — to the tune of $600 million between 2010 and 2017.
The $600 million in overtaxation on foreclosed homeowners, reported by the Detroit News in 2020, is a critical concern for Detroiters. Duggan’s proposal to address overtaxation with a variety of incentive programs was voted down by City Council because the $6-million package wasn’t large enough.
Adams is advocating for reviving the issue. “Now, we understand it can’t be paid back in one year. But clearly, people need to be compensated for that loss,” he told the Detroit News.
During his time in office, Duggan has worked to address needs for low-income homeowners, reforming property tax assessments and lobbying for the state to expand the property tax exemption program. He’s worked with foundations, banks and other organizations to create funds for affordable housing development and low-income homeowner relief.
Adams has countered that affordable housing funds need to be spent in neighborhoods that need it most, rather than in greater downtown, and should include rehab and payment assistance.
Infrastructure needs are another chief concern in Detroit, where repairing all public school buildings would require up to $500 million and the water system needs “$5 billion to $20 billion” in improvements to prevent flooding.
Over the summer, hundreds of residents experienced flooding in basements as a result of torrential rains. This prompted the Duggan administration to pressure landlords to take action to clean residents’ homes and work with FEMA to distribute funds to folks impacted by the damage of the flooding.
Adams told Daily Detroit the city needs to move towards more green conservation, citing efforts to capture stormwater runoff like rain gardens and bioswales, and providing incentives for businesses that implement green infrastructure. He also called for much more aggressive maintenance of the water system and passing on some costs to suburban customers to build more retention into the system.
Environment and climate change
Environmental justice and climate change has been of particular concern among Detroiters, with many citing pollution as causing chronic illness in communities. Under Duggan’s administration, Stellantis (the automaker formally known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) received significant city and state tax incentives for its expansion of its facilities on the city’s east side despite environmental concerns about the impact on residents.
And in southwest Detroit, concerns over protecting the riverfront have mounted in recent years following the partial collapse of a uranium-tainted storage site in that fell into the Detroit River in 2019, and more recently where a roadway buckled in Delray causing a nearby pot dispensary to be demolished and leaving officials concerned over the amount of pollutants being stored in the area. In the aftermath, Duggan said the city may need to change regulations for heavy material storage.
Critics say Duggan has been somewhat oppositional to addressing environmental justice issues. Outgoing City Councilmember Raquel Castañeda-López says his administration has been reactive to issues around climate change and pollution at best and that Duggan lacks vision. The unprecedented water shutoffs during his tenure were widely criticized, though he implemented a shutoff moratorium during the pandemic.
Adams says he’s worked with community members to fight against modifications of discharge permits in the development of the Stellantis plant expansion and if elected would involve residents more in the decision-making process of community development and expand on the city’s recycling efforts.
Police reform and crime
In 2020, at the height of global protests following the murder of George Floyd, Detroit police under the direction of former Police Chief James Craig (one of Duggan’s most notable appointees) shocked residents by using excessive force against peaceful protesters. Protesters filed a lawsuit against the city. The confrontations led to a federal judge to temporarily ban the use of choke holds and rubber bullets by police. For his part, Duggan issued a curfew in May 2020, blamed the widespread protests that took place throughout downtown Detroit on outside agitators and defended an incident involving a police vehicle that drove through a crowd of demonstrators.
According to a survey conducted earlier by the city of Detroit to identify priorities for using American Recovery Plan Act funding, public safety was listed as a top three concern, in addition to intergenerational poverty and rebuilding homes. Duggan’s ARPA plan calls for spending $50 million on public safety, including on vehicles, training facility upgrades, ShotSpotter technology and traffic cameras.
Over the years, his administration has worked to clean up Detroit’s image as one of America’s most dangerous cities. In his 2019 state of the city address, Duggan proposed a $10 million investment to add police officers and enhance the reach of the Project Green Light. The controversial initiative has been criticized by skeptics who question the efficacy of widened surveillance and say the program tramples on individuals’ privacy. Despite the backlash, Duggan has been consistent in defending the program and has sought to require that all businesses open overnight be enrolled.
Adams’ approach, if elected, would be to focus on the causes of crime — poverty, lack of opportunities, mistrust of police — by focusing on jobs training and community policing to improve engagement with residents. In addition, he said he would hire more than 100 community intervention specialists to address conflict resolution with youth and direct more resources to the police department for job training and mental health needs.