MAYOR’S RACE 2013: Policy or Popularity Contest?

It’s amazing. About 15 candidates have filed to run for mayor of Detroit. A surprise? Not really because in a city where the image has been damaged in the last few years, people are tired of the kind of leadership they have been getting that has led to this situation.

Take the last eight years or so for example, from both the executive and legislative branches of government downtown.It makes us wonder if children who grow up in this city can take a lead from those who call themselves leaders at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

The cacophony of leadership at city hall in the last decade — or to be exact — the lost decade, has had a dire effect on the lives of ordinary citizens. And so we see today that 15 candidates say they each want to be mayor. Some have entered the race because they are tired of the kind of metrics that has long been used to get people elected in this town — popularity instead of real substance and a passion for public service.

Others driven mainly by their egos, and tapping into the anger and frustration of voters also want to flex their political muscles or whatever they have left. And there are those candidates who genuinely want to change the course of history for Detroit and want to do so at this historic time.

But because there is no standard of leadership and because voters have not set a bar for who should seek the highest office in this town, it is free lunch for anyone entering the race.

Granted, democracy enjoins us to allow the full participation of every voice in the political process regardless of who they are or what their background is.

That is sacred and we cannot mortgage it for any reason.

Yet in the process of a full-fledged democratic participation and its essence being priceless, we cannot compromise the kind of leadership that should serve the political process and the taxpayers who fund that process without identifying how and what is needed to seek the most important office in Detroit.

The current mayor’s race is becoming more of a popularity contest than a determination of who has the best policy and judgment to run the city.

Among the candidates are Mike Duggan, Benny Napoleon, Lisa Howze, John Telford, Fred Dur­hal, Krystal Crittendon and Tom Barrow.

The race is becoming more about who can fire the best salvo at their opponent than about who has the requisite skills and knowledge and background to deal with a gigantic institution like Detroit government. The race has degenerated into a campaign of half-truths and outright lies than a focus on the need to speak the truth regardless of how charged the political atmosphere is.

Regardless of the risk of losing political fortunes on the campaign trail, the candidates owe Detroiters the truth and nothing but the truth.

The next mayor of Detroit should be an individual who is devoid of the checkered political past of the region and the city that has contributed to today’s problems. Even though it is hard to find a squeaky clean candidate these days, Detroit should not settle for anyone or anything that has significantly contributed to the problems that the city finds itself in.

On Mackinac Island, during the just ended 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference, the candidates’ forum quickly turned into an exchange of jabs instead of policy oriented conversations around what got Detroit where it is and what can salvage the city from its current economic doldrums.

I walked away feeling empty and struggling to find something to write on my notepad because neither of the candidates on stage actually stood out on the issues. They were busy responding to each other’s jabs.

If we are less focused on who is more popular or who has major backing and base this race solely on substance given the urgency of the period, we can then drill the candidates to give us a realistic vision instead of platitudes and filibuster-type answers to issues begging for solutions. Detroit is on fire and we need firemen, not slick talkers.

Detroit is at a critical juncture, and it should settle for nothing less than the most qualified, most honest and most focused leadership, something it has not always done in the past.

Public service is a privilege, not a job cut out for just anyone. Even though it is hard to look into the soul of a candidate to determine if they truly are interested in serving the public, Detroiters should demand that those who seek to serve the public in an elected capacity do so with the requisite background, including a record of working diligently on behalf of the people.

Given this city’s history, its grand past to where it is and its potential for the future, Detroiters must demand the best of its leadership. The future of the city is contingent on it.

When you apply for a job, you don’t just pick a position that you want, you select the job classification that matches your skills.

In that regard Detroit should demand the same of those who want to be at the highest levels of public service. That their résumés contain a deep passion, sacrifice, dedication, a longstanding record of helping the public and an insatiable appetite for public service.

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