02.07.14

The Challenge of Divided Leadership. The Motor City has two leaders—one elected by its citizens, one an appointee by the Governor, Mayor Mike Duggan and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Yesterday the contrasted duo held their first joint press conference since Mayor Duggan took office last month to talk about their efforts to work together for Detroit’s future, with Mayor Duggan noting: “We may be the two most blunt and direct individuals that I’ve met, and we figured out after a while, we didn’t have any trouble understanding each other…There’s a certain trust that ends up coming out of the fact that whether you agree or disagree, you’re brutally honest.” The joint appearance marked a singular contrast to the difficult and distrustful relationship that developed between Mr. Orr and former Mayor Dave Bing and his administration, or, as Mr. Orr stated yesterday, referring to the new city administration: “Our interests are aligned. We’re trying to get things done for the citizens and stakeholders for the city of Detroit, if not the region…It’s not only working well, it’s enjoyable.” As awkward and constrained as that relationship might be, it is like an extra long baton exchange in a relay—so that they both have an enormous stake in perfecting the handoff without any misstep: Mr. Orr’s appointment terminates in September. As Mayor Duggan noted yesterday, that is “[A]ctually seven months and three weeks.” But it might mark the most critical months to determine whether Detroit will have a viable, sustainable future or not—with Mr. Orr facing a March 1st deadline to submit the Motor City’s plan of adjustment to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court—that plan, if approved by the court, will serve as the blueprint for Detroit’s future—a future which, increasingly, will be made operational and effectuated by the manner in which this unlikely duo work together. Last month, in a first step towards building trust and investing in the Motor City’s future, Mr. Orr began transferring most day-to-day operating decisions back to City Hall as part of the commencement of a power-sharing agreement—a transfer that Mayor Duggan yesterday said had contributed to building trust and progress: “He’s putting 16 hours a day on the bankruptcy, I’m putting 16 hours a day on the city services…We’re still not making as much progress as we should be in the city. But we’re doing a whole lot more maybe than what would’ve been done before.”  Pointing to where he feels the Motor City after his first full month in office, Mayor Duggan said: “I want to be judged on one standard: Is the population of this city growing or is it shrinking? If you’re in our Wednesday morning Cabinet meeting, everything we are focused on doing is what actions are we going to take that are going to lead to the population of Detroit growing again. If we deliver these services, that’s what’s going to matter.”

Nearing the Checkered Flag? In addition to his joint session with Mayor Duggan this week, Mr. Orr met with business leaders to update them on the city’s progress and future, promising that even though it might seem cold and gloomy now, the future is “remarkably bright.” Addressing the city’s Downtown Detroit Partnership, Mr. Orr told them Detroit’s challenges are no different than those faced by his hometown of Miami in the 1980’s and Washington, D.C., in the 1990’s, reminding them that each city emerged from challenging financial situations and is thriving. He pointed to Detroit’s M1 rail project, its new bridge to Canada, a new hockey arena with mixed-use development, and other economic developments and said: “If you do this right, you are going to be amazed at how quickly the city is going to turn…The bright future may not seem that way on a daily basis, but I’ve seen this in other circumstances…You have more interest in this city that I’ve heard of in the past three months than I saw in either Miami or Washington, D.C. The question is going to be can we take the right opportunities at the right time, in a mature, measured way and provide for the other 130 miles of city.”

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