Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
The city's emergency manager reaches a power-sharing agreement.
As with many headlines out of Detroit, this one from Tuesday's Detroit News seems surreal: The city's emergency manager is now set to give its newly elected mayor a "major role in Detroit operations."
Of course, we'd expect the mayor to have a major role in running the city, were this any other city. But Mike Duggan was elected last month amid awkward uncertainty about exactly what his job would entail. In Detroit, at least these days, the big decisions about the city's budget and operations – and its pending bankruptcy – are made by Kevyn Orr, an outside (unelected) emergency manager appointed by the governor earlier this year.
Duggan, a former hospital executive with some experience of his own confronting insolvency, has had to negotiate his future role with Orr's blessing. While running for mayor, he proposed that he play a role akin to the city's chief operating officer, alongside Orr's CFO. Now it looks like he'll get his wish. The Detroit News reports that Duggan will be given control of about two-thirds of city operations, including all of the parts of the job (like economic development and overseeing the fire department) not directly tied to the bankruptcy. From Nolan Finley:
It’s a major victory for Duggan, who has been lobbying for a significant executive role as he forms his new administration. And it answers the most pressing question since the November election: How much authority would the new mayor have in a city that’s under emergency management? Orr could have relegated Duggan to a ceremonial role, much as he did current Mayor Dave Bing.
More details are expected on Thursday.
These negotiations – with an elected mayor bargaining to wrest parts of his job back – have been the latest odd chapter in the city's politics over the past year. But the announcement is also a positive one for the city. For the first time in months, a local official is regaining power, rather than losing it.