Detroit Voters Narrow Mayoral Field For November Election

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Less than four weeks after Detroit filed for the nation's largest municipal bankruptcy in history, city residents went to the polls Tuesday to narrow down the field of 16 mayoral contenders for the November election. There are also more than 50 hopefuls seeking nine city council seats.

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Detroit has filed for bankruptcy. It's now controlled by its state, Michigan. Yet at least 70 Detroiters would like to lead their city. Their names were on primary ballots in Detroit yesterday, running for either mayor or a seat on the city council. Sarah Hulett, of Michigan Radio, caught up with voters at the polls who say the Motor City needs leadership that can bring about real change.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Re-elect Councilman Jones for city council.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How you doing?

SARAH HULETT, BYLINE: The parking lot at the polling precinct in Jesse Bunkley's neighborhood was almost full when he cast his ballot in the midafternoon. Bunkley says this primary election, and the general in November, are about answering some basic questions for his hometown.

JESSE BUNKLEY: Who's going to lead it, how it's going to be led, how fast the recovery is going to take - you know, and just for me personally, it's how are my kids going to be able to be employed, in the future?

HULETT: Bunkley says he's not happy the city is now being run by a bankruptcy attorney appointed by Michigan's governor. But he says this election is an opportunity for the city to clean its own house.

BUNKLEY: The disarray we've done had over the last 10 years - you know, they're stealing money here, and they're taking money there.

HULETT: But disarray has also been something of a hallmark of this primary election cycle. One of the front-runners was bounced from the ballot, after courts determined he filed his paperwork to run for office before he'd lived the requisite one year in the city. Mike Duggan then decided to run as a write-in candidate. But then, just a few weeks before the primary...

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A new candidate has entered the race to be Detroit's next mayor. And boy, did he make a big splash today.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, his name is Mike Dugeon. Yes, Mike Duggan will face Mike Dugeon.

HULETT: The other Mike Dugeon - spelled differently - is a barber who's never voted. He told WXYZ-TV that he was approached to get into the race to stir things up. Unofficial results give write-in candidates more than half the votes in yesterday's primary, with the original Mike Duggan edging out all the other candidates. The former medical center executive will face County Sheriff Benny Napoleon in November's general election.

Voter Larry Kitchen say the city's electorate is ready for a departure from voting strategies that have not served Detroit well.

LARRY KITCHEN: Name recognition, legacy where people - son or daughter run and then they are, you know, elected to office. We have to probably look in a new direction, and that's what I'm voting for today.

JAMES TATE: What's happening, y'all? What's up? Y'all all right? All right. Y'all get out there and vote today, right? You know, I need you. Your vote - I just need one more.

HULETT: James Tate is running for re-election to his city council seat. He says with the city insolvent and its former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, serving a federal prison sentence for a corruption conviction, some voters are understandably jaded.

TATE: They say, well, the election doesn't count; you know, we have an emergency manager; you know, the elected officials have no power; there's the whole issue of us going into bankruptcy. It's really soured a lot of people on the political landscape.

HULETT: But Tate says what people need to realize is that bankruptcy won't last forever; and the city needs to be ready to run things, and run them right.

TATE: And if we don't get this right at this moment, I'm - you know, I shudder to think what could possibly happen as we move forward.

HULETT: Detroiters will go back to the polls in November, to choose their new mayor and council members. That'll be right around the time things start heating up in bankruptcy court.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah Hulett in Detroit.

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