Don’t believe the hype. Mike Duggan didn’t save Detroit.

Karen Dumas is the former chief of communications for the City of Detroit and Mayor Dave Bing.

Not long ago, Detroit was the city that everyone loved to hate. Publications and airwaves were filled with criticisms and reports of all that was wrong with the city and its government. If you believed the media, the city of Detroit was Hell and run by demons.

Drive-by reports by the national media and local coverage were negative, superficial, and incomplete. They would fly in –  or over –  for an aerial view of the city and its residents, leaving those of us on the ground, trying to hold the city together –  sometimes by a very thin thread –  perplexed as to why media that could tell the whole story only focused on what was wrong.

As the former chief of communications under former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, I know things have been tough and sometimes almost impossible for Detroit. But I used to wonder if the media knew or cared about the role they played in shaping perceptions of a city whose story was far more complicated than one limited to struggle, controversy and a premature obituary.

A few years later, things have changed –  drastically –  in how Detroit is reported. While we were once hard-pressed to find anything good being said about the city, we now hear or read anything but.

The transition out of municipal bankruptcy in 2014 seemed to be some magical era where everything was erased or attempted to be expunged. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s election the year before seemed to usher in a new set of rose-colored glasses through which all things are now viewed.

I first noticed a change when his new staff was announced. Before, all staff members were listed along with their name, past role, new position and salary for such, age, and city of residence. New staff members were named with no mention of most of those items, especially salary and city of residence.

It’s been uphill from there. According to the media, everything is good, great, moving along, solved or in the process of being resolved, unlike previous administrations when little positive was reported.

To read most accounts now, you would be hard-pressed to know there are federal investigations of towing and demolition contracts, questions about how federal money was spent for a demolition blitz, and concerns about the validity of crime statistics. If this would be any other mayoral administration, those facts would be mentioned in virtually every story.

Nor would readers or viewers know the city is still struggling. Difficult decisions are delayed so budget can appear balanced,  the same financial can-kicking that led to bankruptcy. Few revenues are generated. The population is still declining. New developments, such as Little Caesars Arena, are padded with public dollars and tax breaks that don’t do much for the city’s bottom line.

And, oh yeah, some $200 million in pension obligations are quickly coming due. The public deserves answers.

Instead, it is fed a narrative, that of Detroit rising from the ashes like a phoenix. Yes, certain parts of the city like Midtown are doing well and growing –  but they were already stable before bankruptcy, and they overshadow neighborhoods that are struggling and ignored.

Duggan was given the luxury of a new palette. The city was stabilized by structural changes implemented by Bing’s administration, including changes to the lighting system, more federal money for new buses, and new police and administration vehicles.

In spite of what is said, this did not just happen in the last three years. And Detroiters throughout its 139 square miles have long worked hard and collectively, championing a city that many called and treated like trash.

I also know there are many things that would warrant at least questions and demand thorough answers from the administration, but it seems that no one is asking.

Instead, the media  throw softball questions at the mayor’s administration, and whatever is returned as an answer is considered an unquestionable fact. I don’t know what motivates the change –  fear, a desire to be in the inner-circle politically or fear of being a naysayer to “progress” –  but something is different.

Yes, perceptions matter. But so do facts. And the media should be consistent about holding public officials accountable at all levels.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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Comments

Kevin Grand
Tue, 01/30/2018 - 10:40am

It nice to see that not everyone has drank the Kool Aid.

Good read.

Cathy
Tue, 01/30/2018 - 11:27am

Thank you for the story!!!

Patrick snoopler
Tue, 01/30/2018 - 1:27pm

Or, just maybe, the new Mayor is significantly more competent than the guy you worked for.

Ann Farnell
Tue, 01/30/2018 - 2:11pm

Thank you for bringing to attention what you didn't say but I will. The public and media perception of how Detroit is doing is
based more on the race of the mayor than anything else.

John Q. Public
Tue, 01/30/2018 - 2:25pm

Brava!

Chris Carpenter
Tue, 01/30/2018 - 2:33pm

It sounds like Karen Dumas is one person who is unhappy and loves to bad mouth the present administration - "Sour Grapes". I will admit that Mayor Bing did an excellent job getting Detroit on the right track after years of corruption. Mayor Bing laid a good solid foundation with the bankruptcy and the improvements. I think a lot more progress has been made since then and a lot more needs to be done.

Marie
Tue, 01/30/2018 - 3:36pm

Balance discussion is always necessary, let’s keep everybody accountable to the people that have called Detroit home and raised their families here, respect!

Dale Brown
Tue, 01/30/2018 - 4:58pm

Detroit must celebrate remarkable history of resilience and excellence of those who migrated from the south overcame great odds to create an incredible community struggling against A society which attempted to cripple the city because of the success of of the new indigenous people of Detroit beginning in the early 1900’s. Detroit entrepreneur ship has always been an incredible force to be reckoned with, unstoppable under all conditions of aggression committed by local state and federal intervention. Detroit must read brand using truth to reconcile the reality of nefarious narratives used to discredit this great city. Detroit has the highest number of African-American lawyers judges in doctors of any city in the United States. Detroit has the highest number of African American yacht owners and predominantly African-American marinas. Detroit has successful business owners and families that live in beautiful homes that on airplanes. Detroit has the only aeronautical high school in Michigan where you can earn in high school and actual pilots license Detroit . This is what we need to celebrate excellence.

John G Jackson
Wed, 01/31/2018 - 6:50am

I was a Freshie at MSU with Karen. We were wide-eyed youth, gaining Independence while being exposed to Life outside the Big gritty City. Young and positively idealistic, there was much to learn about the Political machinations
replete in Racism that shaped Detroit's situation.
We both brought our skills back to the City... She taking arguably the harder path through Early(?) marriage and extensive Education while I delved off into the Workforce augmented by some serious Street Hustling. Not greedy, just needy. College expenses are gargantuan.
Now, as I hear her trained observations on the Political landscape, I'm a bit dismayed that she can
kiss up to the Sell-out Bing.
Before he duped us into the Mayorship he was already part of the dismantling of Detroit's assets including control of The Detroit River water authority.
I'm for the Whole city-not just the areas funded by us for the CarpetBag Mayor and the Self-proclaimed Saviours of 'New Detroit. Some of us took Shovels, Hammers and strong backs along with our own cash to make the Real City strive and stay alive!!

Curtis Christop...
Wed, 01/31/2018 - 2:05pm

I didn't such a pretty lady could be so blunt.lol I'm officially a Karen Dumas fan now.

PJB
Wed, 01/31/2018 - 2:40pm

She is keeping it real. We need to stop falling for the banana in the tailpipe.

Leon
Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:32am

I agree

Ronald
Thu, 02/01/2018 - 10:12am

I retired and moved back to my hometown after being away 40 years (frequent visitor). I have lived in SF area, Chicago, Atlanta and NYC.
Too many Detroiters are unable/unwilling to admit Detroit is a better place to live. Every city has problems. Some Detroiters require EVERY problem be resolved before they can be happy.

Debra
Fri, 02/02/2018 - 9:22pm

Many of us share this viewpoint but it is rare for the media to cover this perspective! Well written article, although I took issue with many of Mayor Bings policies.

Chris
Sat, 02/03/2018 - 10:09am

Good points. However. Humans tend to give credit to the one they see open the jar. Not the one(s) who helped loosen it. Expecting more out of people is, unfortunately, unrealistic.

Booksie
Sun, 02/04/2018 - 1:32pm

I grew up in Detroit (am 68 years old now) and even then the press was bad. All they covered was the crime, and yet I never experienced any problems. I feel the bad press helped to ruin the reputation of Detroit even then. However, I'll take the good press Duggin is receiving. Positive thoughts about Detroit can only help, and if people begin the see progress and begin to believe in what Detroit could be, then more people will return, and business should see Detroit as a good place to be. This can be a good thing. We shouldn't brush the problems undercover, of course, but I have always loved Detroit, and welcome anything positive about the city.