Last night the saga of Detroit took another turn when voters in the Motor City elected businessman and NBA Hall of Famer mayor in a special election to fill the unexpired term of Kwame Kilpatrick. According to reports in the Detroit Free Press, Bing defeated interim Mayor Ken Cockrell, Jr. 52% to 48% in what was a low turnout election. The election marked the end of a contentious race between the two men in a fight to lead a city that is running on crisis mode.
Bing now inherits a city that is teetering on the brink of disaster. The local economy of the city is in ruins, the result of the collapse of the automobile industry, once the industrial center of Detroit that is now hanging on for dear life. The domino effect of the financial troubles of the “Big Three” automakers – General Motors, Chrysler and Ford – has swept across supplier industries and affected tens of thousands of households in the city. Judging by recent sales figures from Chrysler, which has been working mightily to stave off bankruptcy, there is little good news in the foreseeable future for the auto industry.
Just as the industry that defined the Motor City is undergoing a historic transformation, the city is also falling behind in preparing the next generation of Detroiters who will work and rebuild the local economy. The city’s public school system is roundly criticized and a special administrator, Robert Bobb, who was given a temporary assignment to assess the district, is indicating extreme measures must be taken to educate Detroit’s children. At both ends of the spectrum, youth and aging workers, Bing faces a tremendous task in recasting the city in the 21st century.
Bing is following what is now a traditional script for Black mayoral candidates in cities across the country. These days most, like Bing, take on a Black incumbent who has presided over the demise of the city or come into office after a long period of decline in the city. They run as reformers and juxtapose the tenure of the sitting mayor against the lack of visible progress. It was a theme in Newark, New Jersey when Corey Booker first ran against longtime mayor and New Jersey political legend Sharpe James, and repeated four years later when the incumbent bowed out of the race. The same rhetoric was heard Effective as that line of attack might be, reality quickly sets in when the new mayor takes the reins of the city. Bing will have to use the prowess he demonstrated during his days in the backcourt as star member of the Detroit Pistons.
The new mayor has little time to waste. His term of office expires December 31. Bing will automatically swing into campaign mode to prepare for an August primary and the general election in November.