He took over a city in shambles.
Then as now, the deficit was more than $300 million. City Hall computer and record keeping systems were antiquated.
And people were fleeing. Between 2000 and 2010, a quarter-million residents moved away maybe to escape the economic meltdown and national mortgage collapse that hit Detroit as hard as anywhere. Surely some went in search of better schools or to escape the daily burglaries, carjackings, robberies and shootings plaguing city neighborhoods.
With them went a great deal of the tax base. General fund revenues dropped by more than $80 million between 2009-10 and 2011-12.
Bing may have been better off calling for an emergency manager from day one, said L. Brooks Patterson, the Republican executive for Oakland County, north of Detroit.
“He had to wait for the public to catch up,” Patterson said. “The public didn’t want to believe they were in trouble. The City Council still is in denial.
“I don’t think there’s been a mayor beset with more significant challenges in the United States. Just look at Detroit’s finances. They didn’t collapse over the last two years. They’ve been in a downward spiral for at least a decade, if not longer.”
At some point, people will look back and acknowledge Bing as somebody who cared, said Karen Dumas, a communications strategist and former mayoral spokeswoman.
“You’ve got issues with the government structure and legacy problems that have plagued the city and maybe were swept under the rug that are now coming to the forefront,” Dumas said. “He said we would all have to share the pain. That goes from the top to the bottom … the unions, the administration, the City Council.
“People had conversations about making the changes, but not necessarily the willingness to make those changes.”
Bing says previous elected leaders were “more concerned about re-election” than healing Detroit’s ills.
“If you fix problems you’re not going to be popular and you ain’t going to get re-elected,” he said. “I didn’t come in here with my idea on making this a long-term third career. I knew what I was up against. I knew there were hard decisions that had to be made and I was committed to make the hard decisions.”
Bing has yet to say if he will even seek re-election later this year.
“Dave never walked away from a challenge in his life. I don’t think that’s his style,” said Patterson, adding that the city’s trials under Bing’s leadership “won’t tarnish his basketball legacy.”
“Not many people are in that league. That’s secure,” Patterson said. “I think people will look back on his four years as mayor and think he’ll have some unfinished business.”
Others think differently.
“When he hands over the keys,” says Mongo, the political analyst, “he’ll be remembered as a person who couldn’t pull Detroit out of the big, black hole.”