DETROIT (AP) — In basketball and in business, Dave Bing never side-stepped a challenge.
But the overwhelming weight of Detroit’s financial problems and other troubles faced by the former manufacturing hub have convinced the former NBA great, steel supply company founder and first-term mayor that he may have to pass control of the city over to the state.
In doing do, Detroit would be in line to become the largest city in the country to fail and be taken over by state government. Bing grudgingly sees such a handoff as an extension of his service to the 700,000 Detroit residents looking to him for leadership.
“An emergency manager can’t come in here and run this city without the help and support of teammates,” Bing told The Associated Press in an interview this week. “I’ll be a teammate. My executive staff will be a teammate. What we need to figure out is not fighting the person but how do we get along to make wins for the citizens in the city of Detroit.”
The 69-year-old mayor has been swept up in the vortex of despair that has come to symbolize much of Detroit during the past few years. To some, the city’s failings represent Bing’s failure in his third career choice.
He spent a dozen Hall of Fame years as a high-scoring guard in the NBA, including nine individually successful seasons with the hometown Pistons. His Bing Group automotive supply and manufacturing companies provided hundreds of jobs in a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
But “his legacy as a politician is not a very good one,” said Adolph Mongo, a Detroit political analyst. “You can’t run a city like you run a company. You need someone that’s politically savvy enough to surround himself with CEOs who will allow him to navigate the political land mines.”
Citing a $14 billion mountain of debt, $327 million budget deficit and other issues, a state-appointed review team submitted a report to last month to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder that the city was in a financial emergency with no good plan from Bing or Detroit’s City Council to turn things around. Snyder agreed, setting in motion the possible appointment of a manager over the city’s finances.
“I don’t want to view that as a negative on the mayor or the City Council,” Snyder told The AP. “They’ve had plans and I think their plans include a number of good things … but they’re not sufficient to solve this problem in my view because of the magnitude.”
Under Michigan law, emergency managers have the power to develop financial plans, renegotiate labor contracts, revise and approve budgets to help control spending, sell off some city assets and suspend elected officials’ salaries.
It’s not clear what roles Bing and the City Council would have if a manager is appointed. A candidate has been picked, but Snyder is holding back on naming that person pending a challenge by the city.
The nine-member council has voted to challenge. A hearing is Tuesday in Lansing. The board will face that battle without Bing, who declined Wednesday to be a party to it.
“For me, I don’t mind fighting, but I’m not stupid,” he said. “If I know I’m going to get in a fight that I have no chance of winning, why in the hell should I get in that fight? I’m much better off walking away from that and fight another day.”
But victories have been sparse for the Washington D.C. native in his adopted hometown.
After being taken No. 2 overall in the 1966 NBA draft, the slender and silky smooth 6-foot-3 guard had only two winning seasons in a Pistons uniform.
He did earn Rookie of the Year honors and two All-NBA first team selections. He was elected into the professional basketball Hall of Fame in 1990 and eventually named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.
In 1980, he founded Bing Steel in Detroit. The company grew into a small empire of steel and automotive supply operations surrounded by aging houses in the weary North End neighborhood.
It was from there that Bing watched as Detroit’s economy stalled and all but collapsed. At the same time, once-popular Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick became entangled in a text-messaging sex scandal that would force his resignation and later send him to prison.
With no political experience and tons of business acumen, the man who twice averaged 27 points per game in the NBA won a special election in mid-2009 and a 4-year term later that year.