Detroit Mayor Bing accepts city’s challenges, dismisses detractors

DETROIT – For Dave Bing, a pro basketball hall of famer and successful business owner, his time as Detroit’s mayor has been as tumultuous as any since the early days of the man whom city hall is named after: Coleman A. Young. Since taking over as mayor in 2009, Bing has dealt with the arduous task of pulling the city out of years of governmental and financial mismanagement, making many unpopular moves in the process.

“The (NBA) career really helped to prepare me,” Bing, 68, said in an exclusive interview with TheGrio. “On any given night, you’re either going to be a winner or a loser. Sometimes you play well, sometimes you don’t. You’re either the star or you’re the goat.”

“I was taught that you never get so hung up and get high on the good things and success that you’ve had,” he added. “You need balance. You don’t get so low when you’re going through a losing streak.”

Bing, who spent 12 seasons with the Detroit Pistons from 1966-1975, inherited a city going through a long losing streak. The city was mired in the effects of the recession, a record budget deficit, the near total collapse of the auto industry, and the resignation of disgraced former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

“Bottom line, this administration inherited a hell hole, quite honestly,” Bing said in reference to the city’s financial situation. “We had at one point close to 2 million people in the city that were tax payers.

“Now we’re just north of 700,000. We have not made any decisions to make the necessary changes and cuts from a revenue standpoint.

“You can’t continue to try to be everything to everybody when you don’t have the same revenue stream. So you have hard decisions to make.”

Bing, along with the Detroit City Council, oversaw negotiations over a consent agreement with the state of Michigan to avoid the appointment of an emergency financial manager, that was voted into effect in April. During the negotiations, tensions were at full peak with people screaming at – even threatening – council members and the mayor.

Bing hears the criticism and misinformation from some segments of the city: that he is an outsider; that he is “giving away” the city to the suburbanites; or that he does not “care” about Detroit. He hears these claims and largely dismisses them, asking what those who criticize him have done to help the city.

“You’ve got a very small percentage of our population that speaks out very loudly,” Bing said. “The unfortunate thing is that a vast majority of our citizens are willing to stand on the sideline and let this minority group yell, scream, and get people excited without knowing facts. It’s all emotional.

“I think our job is to make sure we have facts and we have data and we’re driven by that and then we have to get that out to the public.” He added that the city is now holding monthly community meetings telling people how deep the problems are in the city.

In terms of the consent agreement, he made it a point to say that it is not the same as an emergency manager, which the Detroit Public Schools are currently under, and is not under the auspices of Public Act 4 – the state’s controversial EFM law. Last Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court put the potential repeal of P.A. 4 on the November ballot, prompting misguided attempts by opponents of the consent agreement to try to have it nullified, but that is not the case.

“It’s not going to have a major effect on us as we’ve signed a consent agreement with the state to keep (an emergency manager) out in the first place,” Bing said. “It’ll have an impact within the city because the school system has an emergency manager [Roy Roberts], who I just talked to.

“He’s a personal friend who is doing something that he doesn’t have to do and he’s catching hell right now. And it’s not going to get any easier.” He added that having P.A. 4 on the ballot is a good thing and it does give people the ability to vote it in or out.

Next: Digging out of ‘years of mismanagement’