Progressives split on Duggan reelection bid, as he secures support from all 3 Dem 2018 gov. candidates 

By: - December 11, 2020 7:19 am

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan at a rally for former Vice President Joe Biden in Detroit, March 9, 2020 | Andrew Roth

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Wednesday formally announced he will seek reelection to lead Michigan’s largest city, but the news has received mixed reaction by some progressive Democrats.  

“I’m not going anywhere,” Duggan said. “If you hire me for four more years, I will work every single day to continue to make sure every neighborhood has a future and every Detroit has a true opportunity to achieve your dreams.”

That would seem to close the door on speculation that Duggan, a longtime President-elect Joe Biden supporter, will leave to join his administration.

If reelected in 2021, Duggan would become the city’s first mayor elected to a third term since Coleman A. Young in 1985. City elections are nonpartisan, but Detroit is a heavily Democratic and African American city. Duggan was the first white mayor elected since 1969.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has offered support for Duggan and cited his efforts to help fight the coronavirus, which rocked Detroit this spring and has surged in the state this fall.  

“The mayor has proven himself uniquely qualified when it comes to leading Detroit through hardship,” Whitmer said in a video recorded statement. “And through it all has shown a deep sense of compassion, every step of the way.”

Since he was first elected in 2013, progressive activists have been frustrated with Duggan, the former Detroit Medical Center CEO who is considered a moderate Democrat, for being too pro-business and not focusing enough on the city’s neighborhoods and longtime residents. However, during the last mayoral election in 2017, now-former Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit), son of the late mayor, only secured 27% of the vote to Duggan’s 68%.

But this time around, Duggan has secured support from some progressives who have been critical of him and even threatened to run against him.  

Abdul El-Sayed at a Sen. Bernie Sanders rally in Ann Arbor, March 8, 2020 | Andrew Roth

Abdul El-Sayed, who served as city of Detroit health department director in Duggan’s administration but left the position amid differences in 2017, said he supports the mayor for another term. El-Sayed ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary against Whitmer in 2018 on a progressive platform and was a U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) surrogate during the 2020 election. 

El-Sayed said that he and Duggan have had disagreements on issues, but the mayor’s water shutoff moratorium is important enough to back his campaign. Duggan announced on Tuesday that he was extending a halt on shutoffs for people unable to pay their water bills, something progressive activists have long called for, but has taken on heightened importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Mayor Duggan is the leader Detroit’s needs right now,” El-Sayed said in a video message during the announcement. “I believe that he has the opportunity to build a Detroit that is more just, equitable and sustainable, even before this pandemic.”

Shri Thaneder, an incoming state House member from Detroit, was the third Democrat to run for governor in 2018. He offered himself as a progressive and later said that he was considering a run for Detroit mayor. Thanedar told Michigan Advance on Thursday that he will not be a candidate for Detroit mayor in 2021 and also supports Duggan’s reelection. 

“He works hard,” Thanedar said. “He established COVID-19 testing sites around the city. He has certainly done well with the business community and bringing prosperity downtown and worked on bringing prosperity to places like Livernois Avenue, helping small businesses. I think that he has done well.” 

However, U.S. Rep. Rashia Tlaib (D-Detroit), considered a leading progressive on Capitol Hill, had no comment on Duggan’s reelection bid, according to spokesperson Denzel McCampbell. Before running for Congress, Tlaib opposed Duggan with her efforts to up community benefits agreements so that Detroit residents weren’t left behind when companies commenced big projects in the city.

In spite of some continued policy differences, like the Detroit Police Department’s use of facial recognition technology, she and Duggan this year formed an alliance to ensure that Detroit receives appropriate federal funding through the U.S. census process. 

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo at the bipartisan expungement press conference in Detroit, Sept. 9, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Meanwhile, state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit), a term-limited lawmaker who was elected to a Detroit Board of Education seat in November, has not ruled out a mayoral run. Gay-Dagnogo said that Duggan “needs a challenge.” 

“The question I have is are Detroiters ready to get behind a neighborhood vs. downtown movement, and to thrust their support behind the person who is willing to do it,” she said. “Make no mistake, the corporate community has a vested interest in keeping the status quo, so it would be a heavy lift that will take a collective grassroots approach. My family and I have been through so much this year, that it would take readily available resources and overwhelming support of the people for me to decide to run.” 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.