Interview with Detroit Mayor: A+! A year after Mike Duggan took office

(消息来源:21世纪经济报道 特派记者 叶慧珏 | News Source: 21st Century Business Herald Accredited Journalist - Emily Ye)

A+! A year after Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan took office     Translated by Alina Dong

After a year of his tenure, Mike Duggan got an A+.

Mayor Duggan, who took office in January 2014, is the first elected mayor in Detroit city after Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr took over the city’s financial operations and filed for bankruptcy.

Shaking off $7 billion of debt, Detroit achieved fiscal balance in early 2015 for the first time in the past 13 years. Duggan’s tenure is very pivotal to the city’s road to recovery in the future.

The year of 2015 marks the first anniversary of Duggan’s tenure, as well as the first year that the municipal government and council operate independently after Detroit’s official out of bankruptcy. In his recent State of the City address, Duggan felt satisfied with his work in the past year, “One year down and you’re still happy to see me. I’m glad.”

Politicians and businessmen are also satisfied with the new mayor who started his career as a lawyer and attorney, and has rich experience in the business world.

“I give him an A+. Mayor Duggan is resource-oriented. He promoted the construction projects in the city, so that the city’s livability is increased, and it can attract new business.” Rodrick Miller, president and CEO of Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC), told the 21st Century Business Herald.

Mayor Duggan was the president and CEO of Detroit Medical Center (DMC), and he successfully sold the organization to a publicly traded company. Detroiters believe Duggan is good at in solving financial crisis.

Laurent Bresson, president and CEO of Nexteer Automotive, told the 21st Century Business Herald that he was very impressed by Duggan, “He is business-oriented. He has a business mindset, and focuses on increasing business market, which is completely different from other politicians that I know.”

Improving public service

“We need to change the conversation, and become more competitive.” Duggan gave a themed speech at Detroit Policy Conference held at the end of February. The auditorium was packed with audience, and people greeted every new policy and measure with applause.

Duggan’s celebrity effect continues, and people place high hopes on him.

After his coming to power, Duggan said that the real standard to measure the success of a mayor is the increase of urban population. So he began to improve community building after taking office.

“In the first year, he mainly focused on restoring the core public services in the city,” said Maureen D. Krauss, vice president of Detroit Regional Chamber, to the 21st Century Business Herald.

What impressed Krauss are the newly installed street lights; “The year before Duggan was elected mayor; there were only about 300 new streetlights, which posed a big problem to the City.

In the year after his election, 30,000 new streetlights were installed. It has a deep impact, because when you are driving in the city, you’ll find that the neighborhoods are lit up. It matters the quality of life and public safety.

The restoration of public service also included the addition of 80 buses in the city to make it more convenient for residents to travel. The average response time of police action has declined from 37 minutes to 17 minutes; meanwhile, in 2014 there were less than 29 car thefts every day, and a total of 10,564 cases in that year in Detroit city, down by 20% compared with the previous year.

Not long ago, Detroit witnessed a record-breaking heavy snow, but the streets were cleaned immediately, which would be unbelievably efficient to residents who lived here in the past.

“These are the basic services that people assume a city should provide, but Detroit didn’t have them before. The new government made it.” Said Krauss.

It is noteworthy that Detroit city and creditors successfully reached an agreement on bankruptcy and restructuring plan, laying a good foundation for Mayor Duggan’s improvement of public services.

Under the restructuring plan, Detroit will set aside $1.4 billion for police, fire protection, street lighting and other public services in the next decade. As part of the plan, Detroit city can accept $816 million of donations from nonprofits, the State of Michigan, and Detroit Institute of Art Museum (DIA) in the next two decades. After exiting bankruptcy, the newly founded Financial Review Commission, approved by the legislature and the governor, will oversee the city’s financial situation and the implementation of the restructuring plan.

Solving the problem of old buildings

Another important work that Duggan did is to clean up the old buildings in Detroit, and improve residential housing through multiple ways.

During the financial crisis, many people lost their homes because of the sub mortgage problem. In addition, after the population boom in early years, many old buildings are left unattended and in disrepair, so some areas of Detroit became “ghost towns” full of empty buildings.

Duggan examined those buildings one by one, pulled down those not suitable for living, and auctioned those buildings that can be restored.

In 2014, Detroit demolished a total of nearly 4,000 buildings, and it plans to demolish another 4,000 buildings this August. At the same time, the government will sell habitable houses to residents by auction, on condition that the houses will be renovated and lived in. By doing so, it avoids a lot of investment house purchases.

To encourage residents to renovate their houses, Duggan suggested an interest-free house repair program that provides a total of $8 million loans to qualified house owners since March. The program aims to help house owners to repair their roof, walls, doors and windows, furniture, home appliances, and many others, and improve their living environment.

“Mr. Mayor understands pretty well that we have to sell a lot of residential houses and let buyers to renovate them, which will improve the whole community. Those empty houses have been left unused for a very long time without tax income, so it is a good idea to sell them at a lower price.” Said Kenneth M. Creighton; senior vice president of Shanghai DongDu International, to 21st Century Business Herald. DongDu International is an asset management company that currently has three large buildings in Detroit.

But Duggan is still subject to budget constraint in his efforts to achieve his big goals, so he kept putting pressure on the federal and the state governments to gain more budget support. At the Detroit Policy Conference, he said that a total of $100 million funds provided by the federal government to demolish old buildings would run out by this August, so he is working with Washington to discuss how to continue to get new funding.

“I’m not worried about the current fiscal situation in Detroit city. I believe the new mayor and council will ensure a balanced budget, or even a surplus,” Said Dennis Archer, who is a Democrat and served as mayor of Detroit from 1994 to 2000, “What I’m worried about is the lack of action from Congress, and it’s not able to provide the assistance that Detroit needs.”