DETROIT – After weathering multiple challenges to his candidacy, including being thrown off the primary ballot on a technicality, former Detroit Medical Center head Mike Duggan won the Detroit mayoral primary on Tuesday in an unprecedented write-in campaign.
Duggan, who will face former police chief and current Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon in the general election, could become the first white mayor of the majority black city in 40 years.
“There was one message tonight: Detroiters wanted change,” Duggan said on Tuesday night at a rally in Downtown Detroit. “Six weeks ago, I was out of this campaign. I thought it was over. But the volunteers inspired me.”
‘Everything starts over’
Duggan got the vast majority of over 50,000 write-in votes during Tuesday’s primary, and finished first in the primary by garnering 52 percent of the vote in a crowded field that included the presumed front-runner Napoleon who received just 30 percent. It was the first time a write-in candidate had won an election in Detroit since 1925.
“I’m elated that we, in fact, made history but I also know that everything starts over,” Palencia Mobley, a Duggan supporter, said. “The button has been reset and this campaign will focus on the issues and the plan to improve the city.
“Winning the primary does not guarantee the general election. I think it gives us momentum but we have to be focused on what needs to be done to secure victory in November.”
First white mayor in over 40 years
Detroit last elected a white mayor – Roman Gribbs – in 1969. When Gribbs decided not to run for a second term in 1973, then-state senator Coleman Young was elected, becoming the first black mayor in the city’s history. He went on to serve five terms from 1974-1993.
Since Young left office, there have been four mayors: Dennis Archer, Kwame Kilpatrick, Kenneth Cockrel Jr. (on an interim basis from 2008-2009), and Dave Bing. Of those four, only Archer served more than one full term.
Duggan built his popularity through leading a yearlong tour of the city, organizing community meetings with residents in their homes and getting to understand the issues the residents had. He struck a chord with younger voters and older residents frustrated with years of racial bickering.
“Every single person is valued,” Duggan said when he announced his candidacy in February. “Whether you are black, brown, or white; Arab or Chaldean; gay or straight. Whether you were born in the city, or you were born in another country; if you want to come to Detroit to be apart of our future you [are] just as welcome as everybody else.
“There have been too many businesses and potential investors over the years that have been scared off by the ‘us vs. them’ divisive rhetoric. It has not served the city well and tonight is the night we put that to rest once and for all.”
Born in Detroit, Duggan – a former county prosecutor – took over the DMC in 2004. It had lost $500 million in the previous five years and was facing the closure of its two biggest hospitals.
His policy changes included shifting resources to patient care and creating a 29-minute guarantee for emergency room patients to see doctors and creating a program for small businesses that provided health care to uninsured people. DMC quickly turned a profit and has been viable every year since.
His candidacy took a strange turn when he was kicked off of the ballot by a state judge in June. A lawsuit filed by candidate Tom Barrow challenged that Duggan had not been a resident of the city a full year by the time he filed. Duggan, who moved back to Detroit from nearby Livonia in April 2012, thought that he had to be a resident for one year by the filing deadline, not the day he filed.