Duggan refuses to discuss poverty during town hall forum with Coleman Young II

Neighbors criticized Mayor Duggan after fire ripped through this apartment at Richton and Lawton because of failing hydrants.

Mayor Mike Duggan, who insisted last week that it’s “fiction” to suggest there’s a divide between downtown and the struggling neighborhoods, is refusing to participate in a town hall discussion on poverty with his mayoral opponent, Sen. Coleman Young II.

That’s right: The mayor of the most impoverished city in American won’t field questions from residents about poverty after pledging to debate Young in the lead-up to the general election. 

Duggan campaign manager Rico Razo.

Duggan’s campaign manager, Rico Razo, claims Duggan turned down the invitation for a town hall discussion because Young wants to run a “nasty” campaign and that his supporters are “sometimes vulgar.” The decision, announced by his campaign Thursday, comes just a week after Duggan said he would debate Young, the son of Detroit’s first black mayor. 

Razo, who is on leave from his $78,500-a-year job working in the mayor’s neighborhood division, declined to return calls for comment or provide examples of how Young’s campaign has been “nasty” or “rude.”

Duggan has yet to develop a plan to combat the rising poverty rate in the neighborhoods and has caught criticism for failing to address the symptoms of poverty – tens of thousands of residential water shutoffs and record-high home foreclosures.

The town hall forum on poverty was proposed by Bankole Thompson, a Detroit News columnist and 910AM Superstation radio host, who was a panelist during two of the three general election mayoral debates in 2013. The idea was to invite Detroiters and let them ask the two candidates about their plans to address poverty. 

Thompson said he’s still going to hold the town hall forum since Young has agreed to participate and because residents want to hear about plans to tackle poverty.

In an email to Thompson on Thursday, Razo said Young’s “strategy is to try to create a climate of hate and divisiveness in Detroit.”

“Joint campaign appearances with Senator Young are clearly seen by his campaign as prime opportunities to engage in this kind of behavior,” Razo wrote. “We will honor our commitment to do a televised debate with Senator Young, but otherwise will not be participating in any other joint appearances.”

Coleman Young II speaks at a press conference at his campaign headquarters on Livernois. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Young’s campaign manager Adolph Mongo said Razo’s comments smack of racism by using coded language and suggesting that a black candidate and his supporters plan to disrupt an organized discussion.

“Duggan comes from Livonia, where they think that every black person is violent,” Mongo said. “We haven’t done anything disruptive. Duggan is just coming up with an excuse. It’s BS.”

Duggan’s decision not to attend a discussion on poverty raises more troubling questions about a mayor who has focused predominately on downtown and Midtown as neighborhoods continue to decline. Under his watch, home foreclosures and poverty have increased in the neighborhoods, while downtown is booming, in no small part due to tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks to billionaires such as Dan Gilbert, Pistons owner Tom Gores and the Ilitch family.

During a charter-mandated community meeting on Wednesday, Duggan refused to answer questions from the public about neighborhood issues. The mayor issued what he called his “10-point neighborhood plan,” which does nothing to address poverty and includes efforts already underway to cut down trees, remove garbage and fix sidewalks – all of which have happened under previous mayors.

Duggan also allowed the Gilbert and the Ilitch family to skirt affordable housing requirements as residents continue to be displaced from downtown, the Cass Corridor, Midtown and Corktown. 

Photo by Steve Neavling.

Duggan has done very little to address the unprecedented tax foreclosures that are decimating neighborhoods and has even refused to alert residents to state money that is available to help people save their homes. The mayor is demolishing vacant houses with money originally intended to help people avoid tax and bank foreclosures. By doing so, Duggan has collected numerous donations from companies receiving contracts for demolition and asbestos work.  His administration is under a federal grand jury investigation into bid-rigging, a scandal first exposed by investigative reporter Charlie LeDuff. 

Duggan, whose campaign motto was “Every neighborhood has a future,” also has overseen the water shutoffs of tens of thousands of houses, despite serious health risks to neighbors. 

In his re-election bid, the mayor has raised a $2.8 million, courting predatory lenders, suburban developers, corporate executives, politics action committees and deep-pocket movers-and-shakers who usually support Republican candidates. He also received thousands of dollars in donations from the architects of the emergency manager law that resulted in a state takeover of Detroit. 

After winning last week’s primary election, Duggan suggested the divide between neighborhoods and downtown is “fiction.”

“I really don’t want to talk about this narrative anymore,” the first-term mayor told the Free Press. “It’s fiction coming from you. It really is.” 

Mongo said: “He sounds just like Donald Trump,” Mongo said.

Mongo added that he’s “not surprised Duggan is running away from a town hall forum on poverty. He cannot defend his record.”

I will join Thompson on 910AM from noon to 2 p.m. Friday to discuss the mayor’s refusal to participate in the town hall discussion. 

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.