His name is Mike Duggan. He is listed by Fortune Magazine among “The World’s Greatest Leaders.” I was surprised to learn that a number or my rather knowledgeable and sophisticated golfing buddies had never heard of him.
Mike Duggan is a graduate of Detroit Catholic Central High School – my alma mater. He attended the University of Michigan, both undergraduate and Law School.
Mike was active in Democratic politics in Wayne County. That helped him get a job after Law School as an Assistant Corporation Counsel for Wayne County. Eventually, he earned appointment as Deputy County Executive in 1987.
In 2000, Duggan was elected Prosecuting Attorney of Wayne County. With a year remaining on his term of office, he left the County to take on the challenge of managing the Detroit Medical Center, a municipal hospital which was in dire financial straights.
His executive skills made a difference. In eight years, he turned DMC around and it became a profitable enterprise which attracted a buyer from the private sector. Vanguard Health Systems purchased the Detroit Medical Center in 2010.
In 2013, at fifty-five years of age, Mike Duggan chose to resign from the hospital and take on a new challenge. He decided to run for Mayor of Detroit.
Mike and his wife, Lori, bought a gracious old home in Detroit and Mike filed as a candidate for Mayor. Unfortunately, he filed too soon. He had not been a resident of the City long enough to run. It was a careless mistake. Had he waited just another week or so, the filing would have been accepted.
As it was, the City Clerk refused to put Mike Duggan’s name on the Primary Election ballot. A hurried appeal to the courts was unsuccessful. The Duggans were now residents of the City, but Mike was not running for Mayor.
Undiscouraged, Duggan mounted a write-in campaign. It was a decision that most observers thought was utterly impossible. His candidacy seemed doubtful enough, considering that Detroit’s population is mostly black, and the last white Mayor was Ray Gribbs back in the 1970’s. But running as a write-in candidate? What was he thinking?
He was thinking that he knew the City and its people better that his critics. When the ballots were counted, Duggan was nominated with 52 percent of the Primary ballots. He went on to tally a solid 55 percent in the final election.
So who is Mike Duggan? He is the Mayor of Detroit. He has taken on a challenge that would be shunned by any corporation CEO in America, even if multimillion dollar executive compensation were on the table.
When I was elected Judge of the Common Pleas Court of Detroit in 1961, there were 1,800,000 residents of that city. Today, there are fewer than 700,000. To say that Detroit is a ghost town is no exaggeration. Whole neighborhoods that once teemed with children, schools, churches, businesses and block after block of single family homes, have been reduced to weed infested empty lots surrounding pitiful, boarded up buildings.
It’s a city that reflects all the challenges that plague urban life in America. Unemployment, racial tensions, decaying infrastructure, exodus of the middle class, failing schools, drugs, crime. You name it. Whatever is wrong in any city in America is doubly wrong in Detroit.
Why would a successful hospital executive from Livonia want to take on such a job? And what are his prospects?
I know Mike Duggan. His wife is my my old law partner’s daughter. She grew up calling me Uncle Tom. The Duggans are good people. Mike is not a show boat politician. He is a hard worker with a lot of common sense and good instincts.
My golfing buddies haven’t heard of him because he keeps a low profile. I am sure there are some pundits around the country who think that a white man who can get elected as a write-in candidate in a black town ought to be a shoo-in for a Democratic Presidential nomination some day.
I wouldn’t bet against it. If anybody can revive Tiger Town, Hockey Town and Mo Town, it’s Mike Duggan.