Basketball legend Dave Bing, elected as Detroit’s third mayor in less than a year, promises swift and decisive action once he officially assumes the Motor City’s top post.
But restoring fiscal responsibility to this cash-strapped Rust Belt city that’s notorious for fiscal mismanagement won’t be easy for the 65-year-old political novice, who swept incumbent Ken Cockrel Jr. from office Tuesday and now has until August to earn his political stripes.
“I’ve been here long enough to know what our problems are and what our issues are, and it’s not going to be easy,” Bing told reporters Tuesday night, minutes after giving a victory speech to several hundred supporters.
Bing, a successful local businessman, will serve through the end of the year — the balance of the term that belonged to Democrat Kwame Kilpatrick, who resigned in September in a text-messaging sex scandal.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Bing had 52.3 percent of the vote, or 49,054 votes, to 47.7 percent, or 44,770 votes, for Cockrel. Both are Democrats. Only about 15 percent of voters turned out for the special runoff election.
The problems facing Bing include a budget deficit that Cockrel had estimated at between $250 million and $300 million, dwindling revenues and previously unchecked spending. In addition, Detroit’s population — and residential tax base — have been on the decline for decades, while the city’s public schools are among the worst in the nation and in such bad shape that the state appointed an outside financial manager earlier this year.
The city is among the nation’s leaders in unemployment and home foreclosures. Continued restructuring by the area’s three automakers likely will mean more jobs cuts and hits to the local economy.
“We will start immediately in trying to attract jobs back to the city of Detroit,” Bing said, while promising to use contacts cultivated during his 28 years running auto supplier Bing Steel and parent company The Bing Group.
Making sure Detroit is a safer place and that school children will get the “best education” possible also are on his must-do list.
Bing said “we didn’t get where we are overnight,” and quickly asked for “a little bit of patience.”
Patience may be a luxury, especially when a full, four-year term as mayor is at stake. An Aug. 4 nonpartisan primary will whittle down the field to the two who will square off in a November general election.
Bing told reporters he will focus his attention on “running the city, not necessarily with campaigning.”
Cockrel, 43, was vague about whether his future includes taking on Bing a second time.
“You have not seen the last of me,” Cockrel said Tuesday night as his supporters chanted: “Run, Ken, run.”
Cockrel was City Council president before Kilpatrick’s departure automatically promoted him to the mayor’s office. He’ll go back to that job now.
Bing has said he hopes to restore a sense of stability to City Hall, which sputtered along during the final months of Kilpatrick’s embarrassing and scandal-plagued second term in office. Kilpatrick, a Democrat, stepped down after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and no contest to assault. He admitted he lied during a civil trial to cover up an affair with his chief of staff, with whom he exchanged sexually explicit text messages. Both served jail time.
A proposal to revise the city charter also was on the ballot and passed overwhelmingly.
Voter Ingrid Stiger, 41, cast her ballot for Bing and said the new mayor will need time to make the city viable again.
“We need to revamp everything old and get new visions and new people in office. I think the nation looks down on Detroit. Everything we have, the city and the school system, are not good representations of us at all,” she said.
Bing was the No. 2 overall pick by the Pistons in 1966 out of Syracuse. He played in Detroit until he was traded in 1975 and is a member of professional basketball’s Hall of Fame.
His Bing Steel company opened in Detroit in 1980, and he is founder and owner of The Bing Group which employs about 500 workers.
Ownership will transfer to his daughters and management team while he is mayor, Bing said.
In other races around the nation, the indicted mayor of Jackson, Miss., was taken from his home in an ambulance Tuesday night, as he lost his bid for re-election in a contentious Democratic primary.
Mayor Frank Melton, a 60-year-old who has a history of heart problems, was at a Jackson hospital, said his attorney, John Reeves. Melton faces a federal trial next week related to a sledgehammer attack on a duplex in 2006 that he considered a crackhouse.
Harvey Johnson, the former mayor Melton unseated in 2005, and city Councilman Marshand Crisler advanced to a May 19 runoff.
In Alaska, a businessman and former assembly member won a run-off election to be mayor of the state’s largest city.
With all 119 precincts in Anchorage reporting, Dan Sullivan had 57 percent of the vote to 43 percent for former state Rep. Eric Croft.