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Duggan touts Detroit’s improvements, but gives self an ‘incomplete’ as mayor

From: Detroit Free Press

By Matt Helms and Kathleen Gray 

May 28, 2014

MACKINAC ISLAND — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday that the city is making strides in its battle to stabilize neighborhoods and improve basic public services that are critical to attracting and retaining residents in the ever-shrinking city.

“I told you if I got here there would be change,” Duggan told an audience at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference on Mackinac Island, noting that he was campaigning for mayor a year ago — and within days of last year’s conference was kicked off the city’s primary ballot and forced to run a write-in campaign.

Duggan won that fight and told the audience that the city is making progress — boosting the number of blighted homes torn down; forcing negligent property owners to fix up and reoccupy homes or risk losing them to the city; getting hundreds of streetlights repaired each week and slowly improving police and fire response times. He also announced that the city will launch a summer jobs program for 5,000 high schoolers in 2015, urging business leaders at the event to pledge to participate in the program.

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Still, he said, he was not satisfied and gave himself an “incomplete” when asked to grade his performance after almost five months in office.

“I give myself an incomplete,” Duggan said. “I don’t feel good. There are some things we’ve done really well. But at my Wednesday morning cabinet meeting, my department heads are not getting A’s from me every week.”

Ultimately, Duggan said, he will be judged on whether he and his administration can do one thing: Reverse Detroit’s decades-long population slide that was a major reason the city went bankrupt, with fewer people in the city paying taxes to support public services, and the related collapse of Detroit’s real estate market. It will be a tough standard to meet, given that the city’s population dropped by more than 10,000 between 2012 and 2013.

Even so, Duggan touted the city as being on the cusp of a comeback.

■ Homes in some neighborhoods are selling in the $20,000 to $40,000 range, with one house in the Woodbridge neighborhood going for $87,000 in the city’s home auction that kicked off this spring.

“There is value in this city,” Duggan said. “We’re up to two houses a day, seven days a week. This is working.”

■ Duggan said he and his new Detroit Department of Transportation director, Dan Dirks, are leading an overhaul of the city’s bus system so that “bus schedules mean something in Detroit.” He said he has been in phone contact with Vice President Joe Biden about getting federal grants for new city buses.

“Everybody at the White House knows about these buses, and we’re going to get them,” Duggan said to laughter. “When the vice president calls you and says, ‘Mike, I’m going to have to go to Crimea so I won’t be able to talk to you for a week, but I want you to know I’m thinking about the buses and I’ll get on it as soon as I get back,’ you know you’ve got the administration on your side.”

■ The Detroit Land Bank demolished 300 homes in May and 500 in June. Duggan said that by September the number will be 800 a month, toward the goal of eliminating blight in the city.

■ In 2013, the city maintained 25 out of 275 city parks. This summer, Duggan said, the city will maintain 180 parks, and churches and charities have adopted 70 more, so 256 out of 275 city parks will open this summer.

■ Since February, the city has installed 6,000 new lights in neighborhoods, part of a plan to have all city neighborhoods relit by the end of 2015, and all major thoroughfares done by the end of 2016.

Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones also unveiled the summer jobs plan, hoping to tap Detroit-area businesses and others to provide 5,000 jobs to Detroit high school students to help them learn skills for careers.

The $3 million for the jobs program will come from $32 million in federal block grant money that the city receives. Duggan and Jones said they’re hoping to leverage another $3 million to $5 million from the private sector to supplement the city money.

“If we can get that from the corporations, we can get to the 5,000 jobs,” said Tonya Allen of the Skillman Foundation, noting each job costs about $2,000 for an eight-week job commitment.

“One of the things that is important is that we bring jobs to the city because our unemployment rate is extremely high,” Jones said. “We need to get everybody employed in the city of Detroit.”