The collapse of the auto industry isn’t the only thing making headlines in Detroit. The race to succeed Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is heating up in anticipation of the May 5 election between interim Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr., the former City Council president, and Michigan businessman Dave Bing. After the 15-candidate, non-partisan election last February Bing received 29% of the vote and Cockrel 27%.
Whoever wins the bid will have their hands full. Detroit’s unemployment rate of 22% is one of the highest in the country and a major issue of the campaign. Also, at 4.8 times the national average, Detroit has the highest foreclosure rate among the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, reports RealtyTrac Inc. Abandoned homes and unemployment has contributed to crime in the city. Violent Crime in Detroit is almost four times the national average.
“If the rest of the country is catching Hades, Detroit is catching full fledged Hell,” says Cockrel, who has the support of the United Autoworkers of America.
The latest news is the fate of the Cobo Convention Center, home to the North American International Auto Show, which brings $300 million into the city annually. Cockrel supported a deal that would transfer ownership of the center to a five-person regional authority, but the City Council rejected the deal for fear that the city would lose jobs and revenue. Cockrel vetoed their rejection and put the deal back in motion. He says that the deal protects the city’s interests and Detroit will have a representative seated on that authority. Now, the City Council says his veto was unlawful and is suing Cockrel. He met with the City Council for two hours today to discuss Cobo, but neither would comment about that discussion, reports the Detroit Free Press.
A planned closed-door session of City Council yesterday to discuss litigation that could derail Cobo expansion plans didn’t happen because not enough council members showed up.
Bing thinks that Cockrel lacked leadership in getting the council to pass the deal. “The in-fighting that we are going through now is nauseating,” said Bing in regards to disputes between the mayor and the city council. “We need a leader. I think Cockrel is a good politician, but he is not a good leader.”
Cheryl Smith, sergeant-at-arms of the Detroit Police Officers Association, which threw unanimous support to Cockrel, says that Cockrel should be mayor. “His experience absolutely qualifies him to be the leader of the City of Detroit,” said Smith. Since becoming mayor, Cockrel opened five new police mini-stations and re-opened Detroit’s 10th Precinct.
Bing is also concerned about public safety in Detroit, and hopes to improve response times for serious crimes, fires, and medical emergencies. The Detroit Firefighters Association has endorsed Bing.
Bing has lived in the suburbs of Detroit since his stint playing for the Detroit Pistons and Cockrel says that he is too far removed from the problems within the city.
“I think my opponent is a good man. He has created jobs for the city of Detroit,” says Cockrel. “I give him credit for that, but you can’t know the city and the issues if you don’t live here. He lives in a gated community in the suburbs.”