DETROIT — Gone are the cheery promises of earlier city leaders about how Detroit is on the way back. How some new project downtown is surely just the first sign of a renaissance afoot. How things are not so bad.
Instead, Dave Bing, Detroit’s mayor of five months, delivers grim news by the day. Detroit’s bus service will be cut, he said, and, 230 city workers will be laid off next week, some among more than 400 layoffs since he took office, and more are possible ahead. Within a week, he is expected to announce how he will — through elimination, consolidation, outsourcing — shrink a city bureaucracy built for an earlier, booming Motor City.
“We’ve got to focus on being the best 900,000 populated city that we can be and stop thinking about, ‘We can turn the clock back to the 1950s and 60s,’ ” he said, referring to a time when the city, still the 11th most populous in the nation, was nearly twice as big. “That era is gone.”
Mr. Bing’s drastic measures, coming as he seeks election to a full term in November, are an unconventional, and risky, election strategy in a city that has endured more upheaval and misery than most any other major city in the country.
There have been no published polls on the race. His opponent, Tom Barrow, says Detroiters have already grown exasperated with Mr. Bing, who, Mr. Barrow notes, had for years lived in the suburbs before he moved into a Detroit apartment last year.
“Detroiters,” said Mr. Barrow, an accountant, “want to get behind somebody who wants to grow the town, not shrink it.”
And the city’s unions are furious. This month, the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the city’s largest union, announced that it was dropping its endorsement of Mr. Bing’s candidacy, saying it had been misled by his campaign rhetoric.
But it is also clear that some people are taking to Mr. Bing’s sober, somber approach, at a time when the city’s political landscape (there have been three different mayors in one year) feels as shaky as its economic one. An August primary was deeply lopsided in Mr. Bing’s favor; turnout was low, but Mr. Bing outpaced Mr. Barrow, 74 to 11 percent.
“I’m with him,” Bobby Mixon, a resident of a Detroit neighborhood ridden with empty and abandoned homes, said of Mr. Bing. “But what’s the person after you going to do?”
Mr. Bing, 65 and a former basketball star who describes himself as “not a politician,” has competed in three elections since February, part of the complicated fallout from the resignation a year ago of Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor who pleaded guilty to criminal charges of obstruction of justice.