Benny Napoleon was born, raised, and still lives in Detroit. He currently serves as Wayne County sheriff. He is a former chief of police for the Detroit Police Department and holds the distinction of serving as the department’s youngest chief ever. Overall, Napoleon has more than 38 years of public service experience, which includes a stint as assistant Wayne County executive.
Now, the Mercy College of Detroit law school graduate believes, as the city’s next mayor, he will bring the Motor City back by curtailing crime, creating jobs and revitalizing blighted neighborhoods.
Sheriff Napoleon stopped by the Michigan Chronicle office and sat before an editorial panel to explain why he is best suited to become Detroit’s next mayor. These questions are from Donald James
MC: Talk a little bit about why you want to be the next mayor.
BN: Our city needs strong leadership at this point. It needs leadership that has walked in the shoes of Detroiters. It needs leadership that has experienced an abandoned house next door, knows what it’s like to have streetlights out on the block for weeks and months at a time, to have been a victim of a crime. I understand because I have lived it. I know what Detroiters need because I am a lifetime Detroiter who has the leadership experience to run this city and make it a better place for its residents and businesses.
MC: The next mayor will be elected by the people, yet Kevyn Orr, the city’s emergency manager will have significant power to override any of the mayor’s decisions. What’s your take on having an emergency manager in the city, if and when, you take office, and will you be able to work with Orr?
BN: I think the emergency manager law is unconstitutional. There’s a challenge to it now in federal court. Assuming that the federal court does what I believe it will do, which is to say the law is unconstitutional, then Mr. Orr will go. If the court does not, then he’s here. If he is here (after the court ruling) then we have to work with him.
I believe he was brought in to handle the city’s finances. So my response to Mr. Orr is that you take care of the finances and leave the running of Detroit’s affairs to elected representatives. Within the budget that Mr. Orr provides, the mayor of Detroit should set the priorities and run and manage the city and respective departments.
MC: Some current city officials believe that Detroit, given its current population that continues to drop, should shrink in geographical size. Will you shrink the city?
BN: I don’t want to shrink the city, I want to grow it, and I think we can grow it. But we have to first make the city safe. We have a housing stock that is affordable compared to other parts of the country. People will move here if they believe they will be safe.
We have enough abandoned homes that can be repaired. We could put the homes in the hands of churches and community groups and tell them to fix them up, sell them, and put someone in the homes they will trust. I have the vision and the will and the leadership experience to grow this city by first making it safe.
MC: Will you, as mayor, free up police officers from doing desk work and reassign them to the streets of Detroit?
BN: We need more officers on the street, there’s no question about that. The city of Detroit is extremely short on staffing. However, I don’t believe if you took everybody from behind a desk and put them on the streets that it would resolve our shortage problem. But, we definitely need additional officers out there.
However, no one else in this race has the understanding that I do about staffing, police policies and resource costs. We can do a better job with the number that we have, but we need additional resources so I can create a climate of compliance where people believe when they commit a crime, they will be caught. Right now, that climate doesn’t exist.
MC: There are past examples of when city council members didn’t know anything about some major initiatives that some previous mayors were pushing to the public. What is the ideal partnership between the mayor and city council that you will establish should you become mayor?
BN: You have to learn how to count to five. If you’re going to advance a major initiative or project for the city, you have to go get five votes. Mayor Young was (known for) getting five votes. He understood the legislative process and I understand the legislative process as well. You have to sell your ideas to the majority of the council.
No one likes being told what to do, or told after the fact; they want to participate in the decision-making process. I think any mayor that’s willing to truly be open to inclusiveness with be successful with the city council.
MC: Do you think that Detroit can become a city of destination, where people will want to come here because of our attractions?
BN: Absolutely. One of the things that we have not done well is market Detroit to the nation. That will be a part of what I will do as mayor, make sure that people from around the country and the world understand that there are outstanding attractions in Detroit. We sit on an international waterway with Canada, but have not marketed it. We have Greenfield Village, the Motown Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts and other great sites for visitors.
We have the original General Motors Building, which a section of could become a museum for world visitors. Why can’t there be a museum in our city that combines the iconic automobiles made by Ford, Chrysler and GM? We’ve also allowed Kronk Gym, which is known all over the world, to deteriorate to the point of embarrassment. It should be a place of destination for visitors.
We have been close- minded about what this city means to the world. As mayor, I will have the vision and mindset to make Detroit a city of destination. When more people visit our city, more money will be spent in our city, which is great for the local economy.