Detroit Needs a New Kind of Leader

Once again, my hometown of Detroit commands my attention and prompts me to respond.

Last week, former Wayne County Prosecutor and Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan announced the formation of an exploratory committee for a run for mayor of Detroit next year.  According to news accounts he’s marshalling the support of the city’s business community.  Business leaders were instrumental in the election of current mayor Dave Bing, but it’s become evident during his tenure that he has lacked the ability to shepherd a dysfunctional City Council and city bureaucracy through very tumultuous times (although admittedly, Mayor Bing has had a supremely difficult task before him).

Mike Duggan may be a step in the right direction, if you’re looking simply for demonstrated leadership experience.  However, as a perceived carpetbagger (he moved into Detroit from suburban Livonia earlier this year), and, quite frankly, as a white man in a city that is more than 80% African-American, he faces an uphill battle.  From what I’ve read from afar about general sentiment of the Detroit electorate, voters feel they are in the midst of a battle for control — indeed, the soul — of the city.  They want safe streets, better services, better schools — but are squeamish about electing a white man and sending a signal that blacks have ceded control of the power levers of Detroit.  This mostly plays out in the ongoing debate over the state-city consent agreement that’s designed to keep the city from bankruptcy.

That’s why I think Detroit needs another kind of leader.  Detroit needs a Cory Booker.  Detroit needs an Adrian Fenty.

Detroit needs a young, charismatic, passionate, Ivy-League-educated leader with business experience.  Detroit needs a clear separation from its current leadership, mostly second- and third-generation Civil Rights Era scions who are more focused on identity representation than on results.  It needs someone smart, independent and even opportunistic, able to send a message of change to both the business leaders and the city’s black middle and working classes.

There’s got to be some young rapid riser, either from the Big Three or some other business, that fits this mold.  Detroit’s future depends on it.

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