DETROIT (AP) — Mike Duggan accomplished something in Detroit’s mayoral primary that may never have been done before: He won as a write-in.
By early Wednesday morning, with most of the city’s 614 precincts reporting, Duggan and popular Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon had clear leads over the rest of the field in the race to lead the largest U.S. city in history to file for bankruptcy.
The top two vote-getters will face each other in the Nov. 5 general election for a job that in the short-term wields no real power over any city business that deals with money.
Like current Mayor Dave Bing, Detroit’s new mayor will inherit a city in fiscal ruin. Bing, whose role was supplanted in March when the state hired an emergency mayor over Detroit’s finances, chose not to seek re-election to a second term.
But the presence of the city’s emergency manager, bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr, and his almost limitless power under Michigan’s emergency manager law have not dissuaded Duggan or Napoleon.
“All of us are sharing a dream to rebuild this city together,” Duggan told supporters during a victory celebration Tuesday night.
Duggan became president and chief executive of the Detroit Medical Center in 2004 and is credited with helping turn the system around and back to profitability. He is a former Wayne County prosecutor and deputy county executive.
His opponent also has experience in county politics.
Napoleon was appointed in 2004 as assistant Wayne County executive and was appointed sheriff in 2009. He was re-elected sheriff last year. He spent three years as Detroit police chief before retiring in 2001 after a long career on the force.
“From this point forward, this is not a campaign,” Napoleon told his supporters Tuesday night. “This is a movement that will take place at the most critical point in our city’s history — at a time when our democracy has been challenged with the appointment of an emergency manager and the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. But our spirit is not broken — it is reignited.”
But decades of population decline, a plummeting tax base and a history of political corruption and mismanagement have left Detroit battered and beaten.
Orr was hired by the state in March to fix a budget deficit approaching $380 million and mountains of debt.
Unable to reach deals with creditors, who were asked to accept pennies on the dollars from the insolvent city, Orr sought federal court protection. He has said the city can’t pay its bills and — at the same time — fix long-term debt that could be as high as $20 billion. On July 18, he made Detroit the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.
A judge has yet to rule on that request.
“My preference would be for the governor to dissolve the emergency manager and let the mayor represent the city in bankruptcy court,” Duggan earlier told The Associated.
Napoleon also has said he opposes an emergency manager in Detroit.
“My pitch to him is, ‘You’re here to straighten out the finances. You have no municipal government experience,'” Napoleon told the AP in an earlier interview. “The emergency manager puts the budget together. The mayor should be able to set the priorities.”
For Virgie Rollins, who voted for Napoleon, the next mayor must be able to deal with the bankruptcy.
“Sheriff Napoleon can work with the federal government,” she said. “He knows how to work with people there.”
However, 61-year-old Leilani Thornton said Duggan’s success in the medical center’s turnaround makes him most qualified.
“He would know how to work within that system to help move the bankruptcy along faster,” she said. “I saw firsthand what he did at DMC. I know he has great contacts and knows how to work with people.”
The last time a candidate ran for the mayor’s job as a write-in was in the 1920s, and Charles Bowles lost that race, according to Elections Director Daniel Baxter. Tuesday’s election numbers will be unofficial until certified by county canvassers, who also must pore over each write-in ballot and a variety of spelled names to determine who gets those votes.
Mike Dugeon, a Detroit barber who had never voted in a city election, filed at the last minute to also run as a mayoral write-in candidate. Duggan supporters were concerned the similarities in their names would confuse voters. It didn’t appear Dugeon’s name was at heart of their confusion.
There were a plethora of write-in names similar to Duggan, including “Dyggan” and “Dugger.” There also were “Mik Duggans,” ”Mike Duggins” and even just Duggans with no first name listed.