A look at Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s ‘machine’

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Mike Duggan would be the first Detroit mayor to serve more than two terms since Coleman A. Young. (City photo)

Mayor Mike Duggan showed major political muscle in Detroit’s primary and is heading into the Nov. 2 general election with a huge financial edge.

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Duggan is clearly in a dominant position as he seeks a third term. He would be the first Detroit mayor to serve more than two terms since Coleman A. Young, who had a 20-year, five-term reign from 1974 to 1994. 

“It looks like we carried every precinct in this city.” Duggan told supporters Tuesday night at the Good Vibes Lounge on the east side. That would mean he won in virtually every Detroit neighborhood. “For tonight, great numbers, great results.” 

Now he’ll gear up for November. 


Big primary wins

In Tuesday’s primary, Duggan obliterated his nine competitors, garnering 73 percent of votes. Proposal P — the ballot measure he declared a threat — was soundly rejected, and his harshest critics running in City Council races didn’t fare well. 

Duggan garnered 50,853 votes, according to the Detroit city clerk. Combined, his opponents totaled just 19,246. He will face Anthony Adams, a former deputy mayor in the Kwame Kilpatrick administration, in the Nov. 2 election. Adams received 7,014 primary votes. 

In the City Council races, many of the City Council candidates who attacked Duggan’s track record did not advance to the general election. But some candidates who were big supporters of the mayor also didn’t advance, such as District 4 candidate Toson Knight, who was a former deputy district manager in the Duggan administration.

In the race for two at-large Council seats, Nicole Small and Mary Waters, both of whom are often critical of Duggan’s policies, had enough votes to make it to the November ballot. The top two vote-getters were incumbent Janeé Ayers and former state legislator Coleman Young Jr. 

Young ran for mayor against Duggan in 2017, when Duggan won 72 percent of the vote. This time, Young was often far less combative about Duggan’s record, instead emphasizing some of the goals he would achieve on City Council. 

Both Ayers and Young gained significantly more votes – 34,513 and 34,157, respectively – than Waters (26,026) and Small (11,989).

Overall, the Council candidates who generally struck at least a neutral view on Duggan’s track record are moving on to Nov. 2 election.

Mayor Mike Duggan at the July 21, Tony McDuffy Park revitalization. (Mayor Mike Duggan twitter)

Proposal P trounced

Duggan also won by helping to solidly defeat Proposal P. The measure aimed for sweeping change in the way the City government operates by revising the City Charter. The mayor was a fierce critic of the proposal. Duggan’s administration released a fiscal analysis that declared that the proposed charter would lead the City back to bankruptcy. Duggan’s son Ed Duggan was part of the well-funded campaign against Proposal P.

On Tuesday, 67 percent of Detroiters voted against the proposal. 

Major funding 

Duggan is getting major backing from powerful corporate and union political action committees (PACs), as well as hundreds of donations from homemakers to influential lawyers and grassroots activists, according to recent campaign filings with the Wayne County Clerk’s Office. 

His re-election committee, Mike Duggan for Detroit, raised $1.1 million from January to mid-July, according to the filings. Adams raised $160,575.

Duggan had a total of $1.2 million for the primary, including $149,000 from previous fund-raising periods. His campaign spent $719,500 on the primary, and he has $545,000 remaining. 

Major PACs representing Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, DTE Energy, General Motors, the law firms Miller Canfield and Plunkett Cooney Employees, along with the United Auto Workers V-Pac and Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters, gave amounts ranging from $3,000 to more than $35,000.

Executives from Quicken Loans (including Dan Gilbert), Henry Ford Health System, JACK Entertainment, Amtrak, Taubman Co., Vanguard Health Systems, Meijer, the San Francisco utility PG&E Corp., along with local real estate developers, attorneys, and small-business owners gave anywhere from $100 to $7,500. 

‘We just want to get things done’ 

About a decade ago, Samuel “Buzz” Thomas founded and co-chaired the PAC that raised the bulk of the funding for Duggan during his first run for mayor. At the time, Duggan had just been kicked off the ballot because he hadn’t yet been a registered Detroit voter for a full year when he filed his candidacy papers. Duggan moved to the city from Livonia in 2012. 

Duggan is a former deputy executive for Wayne County, a county prosecutor and CEO of the Detroit Medical Center. 

Thomas spent 14 years in the Michigan Legislature, serving as Democratic floor leader in the Senate and as Democratic leader in the House. He is currently president of Thomas Group Consulting in Detroit. 

“He’s an exceptional leader,” Thomas told BridgeDetroit. “He’s a tremendous problem solver, someone that really rolls up his sleeves when a problem is presented and sees a solution. I think that’s what Detroiters really admire and respect.” 

Duggan was first elected in 2013 as Detroit pushed through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. He took office in January 2014 and initially had to share power with an emergency financial manager, who remained in control until December 2014.

“In large measure, Detroit was unfunctional” when Duggan first took office, Thomas said. Tuesday’s win shows an overwhelming number of Detroiters approve of the direction the city is going, Thomas said. 

“Detroiters are pragmatic,” Thomas said. “We put up with a lot. We just want to get things done.”

Voter apathy and Duggan’s ‘machine’ 

Some say Tuesday’s low turnout — 14.3 percent of eligible voters cast ballots — points more to voter apathy and a growing concern among residents that Duggan has too many powerful allies to oppose.

After seeing the primary results, Detroit politico Karen Dumas sent out this tweet: “If people’s private complaints were reflected in their public actions, things would be different.” Dumas  served as communication manager for Mayor Dave Bing.  She now runs Images & Ideas Inc., a strategic communications and public relations firm. 

“Nobody wants to go up against the machine,” Dumas said, referring to the Duggan administration and his supporters. She pointed out that many of Duggan’s corporate donors also support Republicans. Some Detroiters have told her they have growing apprehension of publicly criticizing Duggan.

 “People should have a right to critique, but in this environment, a criticism can be a death sentence, in terms of access and inclusion,” she said. 

The low voter turnout means not enough people are seeing a chance for bigger change, said  community activists Theo Broughton and Albert Martin. The mother and son duo co-host the “Night Talk” radio show on 910 AM.

Broughton said she talked to citizens who were not aware of there being a primary this week. She is a founder of Hood Research, a community education and strategic planning group in Detroit. 

“I didn’t see a win for anyone, the numbers were too low,” Martin said. “That tells me we are failing to get people involved. That won’t solve our problems.”

The grassroots civic engagement group Detroit Action has worked with and against the Duggan administration. The group worked with Duggan’s effort to improve the Census count, the City’s COVID-19 vaccine access, and improving the quality of homeless shelters and reaching those who have housing insecurity issues.

Detroit Action also supported Proposal P and has “larger philosophical” differences with Duggan over policing and corporate influence,  said Branden Snyder, its executive director. 

Snyder and others say there are tensions between progressives and more centrist Democrats like Duggan. 

“It’s a rift between your corporate-aligned Democrats and the role of corporations compared to the role of community,” Snyder said. “If you look at the donors who gave to Duggan’s PACs, you are going to see a lot of developers, a lot of industry executives who will make money at Duggan’s success.” 

One thought on “A look at Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s ‘machine’

  1. Not sure if he obliterated anyone with a 15% vote turnout. Duggan is not doing anything for the average neighborhoods. Maybe when he starts, people will feel like there’s a greater purpose for voting….which there is, but it’s not him. I’m on the countdown to move out of this trashy city!

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