Former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and current Detroit Police Chief James Craig recently were at odds with each other as to whether, as Bing stated recently, “ “Detroit’s not far from Ferguson, Baltimore or Chicago.” Chief Craig recently responded that Bing is “obviously out of touch.” While they each have a point, it come down to two issues: whose ear is closer to the ground and which one of them is most trustworthy. Bing loses on both fronts.
Dave Bing was never a people’s mayor. He won his election (with a little help…no, a lot of help, from Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey), but he isolated himself from those he ruled. Recruited from outside of Detroit, Bing was seen by many Detroiters as a carpetbagger candidate representing the interests of those who wanted to take control of an out-of-control Detroit. Much like Mitt Romney is alleged to have done while with Bain Industries, Bing sized up Detroit assets, spun them off to third party operators, and left city employees, residents, and neighborhoods to fend for themselves.
Bing had a trust issue born of his propensity to take both sides of a single position dependent on who he was in front of. A case in point: Dave Bing sat in the basement of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building in November 2011 and told labor leaders he would take the fiercely-negotiated consensus concession labor agreement signed by them and him to Detroit’s City Council for approval. How do I know, you say? I was there, and my signature is the very first one on that document. It never made it to the clerk’s office for inclusion as an agenda item for a vote, a process Bing controlled.
Bing severely limited unscripted engagement with the public, preferring in many cases to let his administration’s loyal department directors and aides do his talking for him. I am old enough to remember Coleman Young being able to walk any Detroit neighborhood. Not so much with Dave Bing. Bing was recruited to come to Detroit to get it ready for an agenda most Detroiters would not benefit from. Comparing how neighborhoods fared then and their existing conditions now, Bing served his primary purpose while letting the city’s neighborhoods twist in the wind.
So it is hard to believe that Bing can sense the pulse of Detroiters. He could not do it then and he can’t do it now. Statements like “If something crazy happens, I don’t know who we have from a leadership standpoint that we can call upon to control some of that activity,” sounds like an attempt to scare people into believing that Detroiter are on the verge of rioting because they are being left out of the new boomtown Detroit. They definitely were left out during his term.
That statement speaks more to his legacy and illustrates a stark contrast between his administration’s failures and that of current Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s genuine efforts to reach out to Detroit neighborhoods. Bing’s subtle attempt to put Duggan’s work on blast is nothing short of an epic fail.
Chief Craig, however, is quite a different story. Unlike Bing, Craig does not hide behind his desk. He represented a fresh start, not a recycled approach to administrative collusion. He got out there in the streets to meet the people that he is supposed to serve. I do believe that he has re-focused the public safety conversation away from the false premise that police should only respond to crimes once they have been committed.
Craig has gone out of his way to show Detroiters that they have his ear. His responses to the spate of gas station shootings led to an unprecedented collaboration between the gas stations and the police. Thanks to that, and outreach to surrounding neighborhoods, those incidents are on the decline.
Craig has also been refreshingly frank. Last December, Craig created a national buzz when he asserted that an armed population could help deter and respond to attacks by terrorists and street thugs. He went on to say, “If you’re a terrorist, or a carjacker, you want unarmed citizens.”
Craig has proven himself to be an open, accessible, and honest public servant. His genuineness is a breath of fresh air in a city that was mired in stale, trickle down politics that screamed classism at every juncture. Dave Bing’s time has come and gone. One wonders whether he is seeking relevancy. Craig, however, has shown himself to be a very competent and classy ac