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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

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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  • 1

    Mr. Dawsey, you are wrong regarding Mayor Bing, He is between a rock and a hard place. He has to show compassion, which he has, he also has to support the police department, which he has.
    The whole incident is horrible and unbelievable in any other place but Detroit.
    Not to blame the victim she is totally innocent of anything. What about her family who let a murderer stay in their midst. What about the grandmother who allegedly grabbed the police officers weapon? What about the culture of the residents of Detroit who refuse to give information to the police about felons in their neighborhoods? Simply because they "ain't no snitch"
    What about the family attorney Jeffery Fiegar who automatically impedes the investigation with counter allegations? What about Al Sharpton who ratchets up the already explosive mix of race and the police?
    Their is enough blame to go around, and Mayor Bing doesn't deserve it... yet.

  • 2

    You could just as easily have written this piece about the Mayor of Washington, DC. We too had a child killed while an arrest was attempt was being made recently. We too had the deadliest killing spree in recent years a few weeks ago. We too have ineffective government punctuated by Mayor Fenty handing out no-bid super-contracts to his buddies and cronies. Our mayor also refuses to answer questions from the media about how his kids get to attend any school in town he chooses, why he's jet setting all over the world under questionable circumstances or why he fired the openly gay recreation department head. And he's getting a real challenge from his City Council Chairman, a man he refuses to talk to. Fenty's been mayor of DC a lot longer than Bing has lead Detroit. Bing may be incompetent and inexperienced in big city management but I'm not sure you can call him a crook. Turn your magnifying glass on Fenty, will you?

    • 2.1

      This is the DETROIT blog. Perhaps Time Inc. will cover the nation's capitol as it is doing our fair city. The current focus is on Motown . . .

  • 3

    A Democrat has been Mayor of Detroit since 1962.

    A Democrat has been Mayor of Washington DC since at least 1961.

    A Democrat has been Mayor of Chicago since 1931.

    A Democrat has been Mayor of Philadelphia since 1952.

    Would a Republican Mayor fix any of these cities right away? No.

    But Democrats don't care about fixing inner cities either because they already get all the votes while watching them rot!

    Think about it, and don't throw away your votes!

  • 4

    This is - once again - right on point! You blog is a pleasure to read! You've detailed the range of mis-steps that transcend policy, planning (ostensibly his business strengths) - to "people skills" that seem aloof and class-based (certainly for a man who first made his mark in his skivvies).

    He can't be all things to all people, but I hope Mayor Bing realizes he's about to become the one thing no leader wants to be - the image of the problem and the focal point for cries for change.

  • 5

    Past DetNews colleague Charles Blow also calls out the mayor for saying "don't know how to stop it, quite frankly.”

    In his weekly new York Times column today, Charles comments: "So the hapless become the hopeless. That's not what that city needs to hear from its mayor."

    Overall, he sounds optimistic about a city "filled with indomitable spirits of gritty, determined Americans" and hopeful that "the sad end of Aiyana's life [may] spark a new beginning of the city's life."

    Full op-ed commentary:

  • 6

    Geez, really? Bing is VOLUNTEERING

  • 7

    Playing devil's advocate, if Bing weren't running the city, who would be willing/capable of doing it for free, with his skill set? Granted, I wish he had gone immediately to the family and expressed his condolences. It is a horrible situation, however, the family chose to harbor a fugitive and put them all at risk. There is no win/win here. Let us all pray for the family, and stop hating on Bing. I wouldn't want to be in his position for a million a year. Not worth it.

  • 8

    [...] since we all love Bing, I want all my fellow NFL Lions fans to check out detroit.blogs.time and tell me what you think about[...]

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