Duggan Needs Early Victory

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    MIKE DUGGAN, sworn in Jan. 1 as Detroit’s 75th mayor by City Clerk Janice Winfrey as his father, federal judge Patrick Duggan, and former mayor Dave Bing look on. — Andre Smith photos

    On the campaign trail and during two of the three televised 2013 mayoral debates of which I was a panelist, then-candidate Mike Duggan said numerous times that if elected he will work to tackle insurance redlining head on, a financial burden that is partly responsible for people moving out of the city, or using suburban addresses for their car insurance.

    “I intend to start a Detroit auto insurance company,” Duggan said at the Wayne County Community College District Global Conversation Speaker Series at the downtown campus of WCCCD during the mayoral campaign.

    He called it “D insurance,” that will prevent residents from having to pay exorbitantly high premiums for their car insurance, when a few miles outside of Detroit others are paying less, often half as much. Duggan himself gave a personal testimony, noting that when he moved from Livonia to Detroit’s Palmer Woods neighborhood, his auto insurance premiums doubled, giving him a taste of what Detroiters have been going through.

    Now that Mayor Duggan is seated and has been given significant control of city operations by emergency manager Kevyn Orr, the new mayor needs an early victory if he wants to show voters that he will carry out their mandate. And that victory could be delivering on auto insurance for Detroit residents. The city’s new charter, provides for Detroit to create an insurance company.

    This is a quality of life issue and is one of the main reasons why some frown upon the idea of taking residence in Detroit. If the plan is to repopulate Detroit as a comeback strategy, based on the latest census report it would make sense then to address auto insurance right away.

    When people migrate to other places it is in search of better city services and quality of life. The exodus from Detroit to the suburbs over the decades is in part due to the fact that a growing middle class in Detroit long wanting efficient services has been looking beyond the city for answers. And if your insurance would be significantly reduced just for moving into another area, that does not have a Detroit zip code, any family or individual will take advantage of that.

    “I’m just trying to address the issues that are here right now. High car insurance rates are driving people out of the city and they’ve got to be addressed. It’s not likely Lansing is going to address this so it’s my belief we’ve got to take it on ourselves,” Duggan told me during the Detroit News Six Decades town hall I moderated at Detroit Unity Temple three days after his election.

    Duggan said he is in a conversation with an “entity” he thinks can run the “D Insurance,” company but remains tight-lipped about the details of the plan.

    It is time to end the nightmare of insurance redlining in Detroit. What Detroiters are paying for insurance is abominable, even though the insurance industry uses all sorts of technicalities and language to justify the unjustifiable.

    Worst of all, when you have an accident, the level of scrutiny that insurance companies put you through with depositions, sometimes making you feel like a criminal when you are simply filing a legitimate claim, is just unacceptable. Yet insurance companies have no problem collecting monthly premiums. But when clients have a reason to collect on their insurance, then it becomes a cumbersome problem for the insurance companies.

    There is no doubt that insurance companies and their allies will put forth a fierce fight against Duggan if he takes on redlining in the city. The powerful lobbying machine of the insurance industry, including the Insurance Institute of Michigan, is likely to sponsor all sorts of campaigns against the new mayor. The Republican controlled Legislature in Lansing, always siding with the insurance industry, will dismiss any change to lower the high premium rates in Detroit because it would mean less money for the industry.

    Just as the battle for Obamacare almost became an Armageddon battle in Washington with incessant campaigns against the president, marked by false claims of “death panels” and lies about your grandmother being thrown off the cliff, it will be the same for the campaign to end insurance redlining in Detroit.

    But sometimes it is not so much about the issue, but more about who is driving the issue. Duggan is a not a pushover and even those who don’t like him admit that he can get things done.

    Duggan was elected by the people of Detroit because they believe he is competent and will address the quality of life issues that have long burdened residents in this city. The election was a referendum on who can best tackle the crucial issues facing Detroit and what this city will look like years from now.

    If Detroit’s turnaround is the goal of everyone that is chanting “Detroit forward”, insurance redlining cannot be a back burner issue.

    “I say to you one thing: Just give us six months. Give us six months to prove that we can turn things around. Just push the pause button and don’t leave that house yet. Give us six months before you walk away from the value of that house. Give us six months and let us prove to you what we can do,” Duggan told residents of Detroit at an investiture ceremony at the Coleman Young Municipal Center on Monday.

    Mayor Duggan stands to make a lasting impact on Detroit if he addresses this issue to the extent that it no longer drains the pockets of struggling residents and all other taxpayers just because they choose to make Detroit their home.

    Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” which deals with the politics of the religious right, black theology and the president’s faith posture across a myriad of issues with an epilogue written by former White House spokesman Robert S. Weiner. He is a political analyst at WDET-101.9FM (Detroit Public Radio) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening round table on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. Email bthompson@michronicle.com or bankole@bankolethompson.com and visit http://www.bankolethompson.com.

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