In a bankrupt city challenged by crime and other problems, you might expect Detroiters to have low hopes for the future.
But a new poll, coming as citizens face the Nov. 5 election to choose a new mayor, suggests otherwise.
Although more Detroit voters currently see the state’s largest city on the wrong track rather than the right track, there’s higher-running optimism that things in the city will get better over the next year, shows the survey commissioned by Business Leaders for Michigan and the Center for Michigan, which publishes Bridge.
More than 60 percent of those polled said they thought things in Detroit would improve, while 7.2 percent believed things would get worse and 22.2 percent said they would stay the same. The survey of 600 likely mayoral election voters was conducted Sept. 12-14 by the Glengariff Group Inc.
“People are ready to move forward and feel things will be better in the future,” said Doug Rothwell, Business Leaders president and CEO. “I’m so encouraged by the fact that residents are feeling the same energy that we in the business community are toward the city’s rebirth.”
The sentiments weren’t elicited specific to either former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan or Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, the two men vying to be Detroit’s next mayor.
But whoever wins the job – and the poll shows Duggan with a 2-1 lead over Napoleon – voters’ optimism is a factor with which the new mayor will need to contend.
“I think the one thing it portends is an opportunity,” said Richard Czuba, president and owner of the Glengariff Group, based in Chicago and Lansing. “It says that the voters hope, sense, believe that things are going to get better. And it’s going to be up to whoever the next mayor is…to deliver on the hopes of the city. Which is no small task.”
Indeed, the poll highlights some significant issues, the foremost being crime. When asked to name what they see as the single biggest challenge to everyday living in Detroit, 47.3 percent of respondents cited crime. Poor city services came in second, at 12.8 percent.
Voters saw abandoned houses as being the biggest problem when it came to their safety in Detroit, followed by drugs, gang activity, nonworking streetlights and not enough police on the streets.
Czuba said the poll shows that public safety is “a place where a future mayor can have an enormous impact, immediately. It’s very clear from these numbers that the voters of Detroit care about services, public safety being at the top of that,” he said.
Napoleon, a former Detroit police chief, has presented a strategy aimed at reducing crime by 50 percent in Detroit. It includes community policing, using data to track crime patterns, crime prevention, and deploying officers and resources based on problem areas. One element is to place a police officer in each square mile of Detroit who would work with residents, businesses, schools, churches and community groups and target crime, blight, code violations and other areas.
“Benny believes that until we affirm Detroit as a safe city, anything we do to transform it isn’t going to be sustainable,” said Bryan Peckinpaugh, campaign press secretary. He said Napoleon would prioritize public safety first in the city’s budget.
Peckinpaugh said Napoleon’s neighborhood growth strategy also includes targeting abandoned houses and a plan for determining if houses should be torn down and when they are, repurposing the property for other use like a small business location or green space.
Former Wayne County Prosecutor Duggan’s plans include re-instituting a program he created as prosecutor that targeted abandoned homes and drug houses through filing nuisance abatement lawsuits. Owners were given the choice of signing a court order to renovate and occupy the house or deed it to the prosecutor’s office to sell at auction.
Another priority of Duggan’s is to reduce police response time through approaches that include better-utilizing resources, like getting more officers currently doing administrative jobs civilians could do, out on the street, said campaign manager Bryan Barnhill II.
“Mike’s underlying approach to city operations is that management matters. He will go into the police response process, streetlight repair process, and dig out inefficiencies,” Barnhill said.
The poll shows need for improvement in several areas of city responsibility. For example, 64.5 percent of voters said their garbage is picked up on time most of the time. Said Rothwell: “That’s not a great number, that’s not a resounding vote of confidence there.”
And while 36.5 percent of voters said the streetlights work in their neighborhood most of the time, and 22.7 percent said some of the time, a combined 40.5 percent said streetlights work not very often or never.
Still, Rothwell said, “streetlights can be fixed, crime can be solved” with the right strategies and approach. And he said the level of optimism expressed in the poll indicates that residents see the city services challenges as “problems that can be fixed.”
Napoleon would evaluate city services for efficiency and necessity, streamline or eliminate departments that are dysfunctional, and focus on providing improved core services, including through the quality-of-life areas that the “one square mile” officers would address.
Duggan’s reorganization would include consolidating the resources of 10 city agencies into a new Department of Neighborhoods that would be responsible for all services related to neighborhood redevelopment.
As the campaigns move toward an election day less than six weeks away, the poll has Duggan with a lead that Lansing pundit Bill Ballenger said is likely to continue.
“Unless something unforeseen happens, he implodes or there’s some disaster we can’t foresee…he really is in the driver’s seat,” said Ballenger, editor and publisher of the Inside Michigan Politics political newsletter.
Asked who they would vote for if the election were held today, 48.5 percent of voters in the Glengariff Group survey favored Duggan, while 24.1 percent favored Napoleon.
Some 21.5 percent said they didn’t know who they would vote for – a number likely to decrease heading toward election day, Czuba said. But, he said, “the reality is, when you’re at 48-49 percent as Duggan is, you don’t have to win that many of the undecided. And at this stage, the onus is on Benny Napoleon to win almost all of them, or to peel back support from Duggan, which is a very difficult thing to do.”
Some 60.3 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of Duggan and 12.5 percent had an unfavorable opinion, while 46.5 percent had a favorable opinion of Napoleon, and 27 percent unfavorable.
“Napoleon doesn’t have bad numbers, he really doesn’t,” Ballenger said. “It’s just that Duggan has sensational numbers. And I think they’re predicated on a lot of carryover sympathy for him from what happened this summer.”
That’s a reference to a challenge to Duggan’s residency initiated by primary election mayoral candidate Tom Barrow, culminating in court rulings that Duggan was ineligible to be on the ballot because he had filed nominating petitions two weeks shy of a city charter-required full year of being a registered voter and resident. Duggan re-entered the race as a write-in candidate and gathered nearly 52 percent of the Aug. 6 primary vote, compared with Napoleon’s 30.1 percent.
Barnhill said that “perhaps there’s some carryover sympathy, but the bottom line is that Detroiters want to vote for the person who they feel will best address the city’s challenges.”
At Napoleon’s campaign, Peckinpaugh said that in the coming weeks “our focus is going to be continuing to communicate with voters about what’s at stake in this election for the future of the city. As we roll out Detroit’s neighborhood growth strategy, they’ll see how we’re going to go to work to revitalize the city’s neighborhoods.”
While voters have their favorites in the mayor’s race, they’re decidedly negative in their views of the Detroit City Council, the poll shows. Nearly 73 percent disapprove of the job city council is doing, including 54.3 percent who said they strongly disapprove. “You’ve strongly lost half the population,” Czuba said.
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr garnered 34.3 percent approval and 41.9 percent disapproval of the job he is doing. And there was mixed opinion on the city’s bankruptcy filing, with 42.9 percent agreeing with the filing and 44.8 percent disagreeing.
Who gets the most blame for Detroit’s finances? Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, with 18.8 percent of those polled volunteering his name. But he had company.
While voters named a list that included current and past city councils, Gov. Rick Snyder and state government, a collective 38.3 percent of them cited some form of mayor: Kilpatrick, past mayors in general (11 percent) and current Mayor Dave Bing (8.5 percent.)
“I think the automatic assumption people make,” Czuba said, “is that the buck stops with the mayor.”