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The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

Dave Bing Might Be the Best Mayor in America



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Why? As Eileen Norcross points out, he is making the case for a profoundly politically tough and profoundly necessary set of reforms designed to right-size Detroit’s municipal government and give the city a fighting chance to get back on its feet.

Mayor Bing has unveiled a detailed plan for the city of Detroit. It includes offering 403(b) plans to city workers, privatizing garbage collection, collecting delinquent taxes, and merging city services. He now has to get buy-in on the pension reform from the city’s 48 labor unions. While the unions aren’t showing much interest, Mayor Bing is stressing that without these kinds of long-term reforms, Detroit inches closer to a state takeover.

He deserves our support. A brief personal note: While visiting my family two weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of catching a marathon of Martin, a popular early 1990s sitcom starring the spastic young comedian Martin Lawrence. The show was a favorite of mine as a child. What I found striking is that Martin portrays the lives of a group of a young, smart, ambitious, upwardly mobile African Americans. Who believes that this series would take place in Detroit if it were made today?

P.S. A native Detroiter kindly shared an excellent point on the formidable barriers to Mayor Bing’s reform effort:

Mr. Bing is an honorable man, unlike his predecessor. He is decent, hard working, and well-wishing.  He is just one man. The City of Detroit workforce may be the most incompetent in the history of municipal administration.  The City and the Schools are THE engines of money in the City. The vast majority of people who work for the City are there for the paycheck first, last , and at every other time. They also do not really know (or care) that they don’t know how to properly administer a huge city. The accounting and organizational skill set that is the essential base of any administration (be it liberal, welfare state or more free market driven) simply does not exist.

Bing has some reasonable ideas, but no crew to implement them.  It is not so much that he faces opposition (though he does), but that he faces incompetence and indifference. He will find this to be insurmountable, I believe. An emergency financial manager, or a bankruptcy is not the answer. The best, wisest leader (or the most despotic tyrant) is nothing without people in the trenches to carry out his.her program.  here is no one in the Trenches of Detroit who want to do anything besides preserve their pay and benefits.

Perhaps the mayor will find enough unlikely allies within the municipal workforce who recognize that Detroit is on an unsustainable course, who will help to execute his reform strategy. But it’s certainly not a sure thing.



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