Detroit mayor Mike Duggan speaks to students about future of city

Nathan Han

When Mike Duggan ran for his first term as Detroit mayor, he said he decided against running a traditional campaign. Instead, he sat in people’s living rooms, broke bread and listened to concerns from potential voters.

“I told Detroiters, ‘Invite me to your house, and I’ll show up,’” Duggan said. “So some people invited me to their house. Night after night, I would sit in living rooms, dens, basements, backyards, you name it. Everything that divides us tends to move to the back, and you actually get to know each other as people.”

As part of the Dean’s Distinguished Leader Series, Duggan spoke at Sid Richardson Hall hosted by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs on Wednesday. He fielded questions from a crowd of 75 students and faculty and spoke about his efforts to revitalize a city that had just filed for bankruptcy months before he took office.

In 2013, he said his campaign style led to his election as Detroit mayor with nearly 55% of the vote and eventually to a second term in 2017. According to the LBJ School website, Duggan is the first white mayor in the majority-black city since the 1970s. 

“The (city) services have come back, and so people are starting to come back,” Duggan said. “But to me, that’s the price of admission. In Austin, you aren’t worried if the grass in your park will be cut or if the ambulance will come if you call 911. Those are basic city services.”

Duggan said when he took office in 2013, the unemployment rate in Detroit was 14.9%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current unemployment rate is around 5%.

“We’ve landed the Googles and the Microsofts back in the city, which is good,” Duggan said. “But if what I do is bring a bunch of businesses back into the city, suburbanites will come in and occupy them. So I went after jobs that people with high school degrees could get.”

Duggan said Detroit started landing auto suppliers to lower unemployment. He said earlier this year, the first United States auto-assembly plant north of the Mason-Dixon in 10 years was built on the Eastside of Detroit.

“Detroit is making an all-out bid to say, ‘We’re going to be the future of the auto industry yet again,’” Duggan said. “We have a long way to go, but we’re working hard at it.”