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Bing's Bungling

Is Detroit Mayor Dave Bing in over his head?

In the aftermath of several Bing Administration missteps, topped off this week by his slow and maddeningly clueless response to the worst spate of violence in the city this year, media observers and others in and around Detroit are starting to level some of the harshest criticism yet at Bing, with many of them wondering openly whether the former Detroit Pistons great really has what it takes to be the leader that Detroit needs. Consider, for example, this gleaming bit of 14-karat snark leveled by Dyspathy.com:

A good businessman delegates. Leadership is the art of delegation. So with Detroit overwhelmed by the recent Bloody May shootings, Dave Bing—a businessman, not a politician—is like: you people figure it out. Jesus. He has no idea how to handle this mess. Fortunately, by delegating, he looks like he's doing something without actually doing anything.

Even the normally mild-mannered folks at the Detroit Free Press editorial page are going in on the mayor for sticking to the shadows in the wake of the death of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, who was unintentionally shot by a Detroit police officer after the cops stormed her home looking for a murder suspect.

And I won't front: I'm starting to wonder some of the same things about Mayor Bing's leadership abilities myself. Because, on a stunning number of levels, the mayor is effin' up.

He talks in sweeping terms about making much-needed moves to improve Detroit, but so far doesn't seem to know how to get any of it done -- or even seriously underway. His plan to tear down abandoned houses hit snags with state environmental officials and has limped along ever since. His commitment to proper land management is in question now that he's backing away from openly advocating a much-needed "right-sizing" of the city (which isn't the same as annexation). His talk about transparent government now seems like so much campaign smoke after he removed City Hall reporters from their 11th floor offices near his own and into the basement. His claims of a willingness to work with all of the city's stakeholders began to ring hollow after he convened an "invitation-only" community summit. His vow to cooperate with other branches of government has since come off as disingenuous to many after the City Council launched complaints accusing him of attempting end-runs around the system of checks and balances.  And his promise to fix Detroit's finances with a "realistic" budget seemed to fall short after he submitted a "vague" and only "moderately realistic" financial plan still grounded in the same Catholic economics (worse even than the "voodoo" kind, if you ask me) that were hallmarks of previous administrations.

Now, Detroit is reeling from a bloody month that is frightening even by urban America's calloused standards, from the death of 69-year-old Geraldine Jackson — shot to death cooking dinner in her home, allegedly by a 62-year-old man who was trying to cap a thief who'd just jacked his car —  to the murder of 17-year-old Jerean Blake, who was allegedly killed by the man police went to Aiyana Jones' home to arrest.

And not only does Bing not seem to know what to do, he's saying as much out loud. Contrast this reaction even to the response from, say, Congressman John Conyers, who at least quickly called for a federal probe into the shooting (and rightly so, I think).

Now yes, I understand that Bing could have his reasons for not wanting to say too much about the specifics of the Jones case or this whole bullet-riddled month. And I know that his low-key, avuncular demeanor is a permanent part of his style — and something we all seemed to find refreshing back on Election Day. But, as I hear it, the man hasn't even shown up at the home to offer condolences, hasn't made even a phone call to this girl's family. (If I'm wrong here, correct me.)

And while the lives of people like Jackson and Blake were equally as important as little Aiyana's, I think the mayor has an obligation to show more in the Jones case because that baby was shot to death during a Detroit police action, by a city employee. Bing can't make that right, of course, but as the leader of this city, he can most certainly make our collective grief official. Not all symbolic gestures are empty ones.

Instead, though, he shrugs his shoulders and blabbers on about culture and behavior.

Sure, he's got a point about people growing increasingly frustrated and pissed off in Detroit. The story of how the 34-year-old man accused of killing  17-year-0ld Blake initially confronted the boy over stares and snide comments underscores the sad reality that, in a city where so many young men are undereducated and unemployed, tensions are going to run high and violence is bound to jump off. And I think there's also plenty to be said about how American pop culture helps promote the "fatal cool" mentality that makes some young people think they can do dirt without either collective or individual repercussions.

But Detroiters didn't elect Dave Bing in order for him to give the 1,000-yard stare past our grief and say, "That's on y'all." His mandate wasn't to go into office and sit there being "anybody but Kwame." And the people certainly didn't put him in place for him to, in the wake of a little girl's death by a cop's gun, peer out from the sidelines and mouth substance-less commentary about pop culture. I can appreciate that he may not have all the answers — he's not a budget guru or law-enforcement expert, just the figurehead who picks them — but he needs to look like he's at least giving the questions more serious thought.

And if not, if Mayor Bing won't or can't competently and efficiently get out in front where he belongs, is it little wonder that a growing number of Detroiters seem less willing to stand behind him?

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