ARI SHAPIRO, host:
A former basketball star is trying to pull Detroit out of financial trouble. Dave Bing has been Detroit's mayor for just over 100 days - his predecessor resigned in a sex scandal. Bing came to office calling for sweeping changes, and now people in Detroit are wondering whether he can fulfill his promises.
Noah Ovshinsky of member station WDET reports.
NOAH OVSHINSKY: On his 100th day in office, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing gave a pep talk to these one hundred or so appointees just before they were officially sworn in.
Mayor DAVE BING (Detroit, Michigan): We are at a point in the history of this city where we have a major responsibility and a major opportunity to take this city from where it is to where it needs to go.
OVSHINSKY: In his characteristically low-key manner, Bing told the group that tough times were ahead and that it was up to them to lead the city back to greatness. Later in his office, Bing acknowledged that Detroit is at a crossroads.
Mr. BING: We've got to figure out how to be the very best that we can be with what we have, as opposed to lamenting about, you know, we lost this that; we're not this, we're not that. We got to deal with the now.
OVSHINSKY: For Bing, the now is a $275 million budget deficit that grows by the day. Detroit's finances are so precarious the mayor says the city could run out of money in October.
Detroit is by no means the only municipality battered by this recession but the roots of this crisis goes much deeper. For years, the city spent more than it brought in. Add to that a declining population and persistent corruption, and you have a perfect storm.
It's under these conditions that Bing, a political novice, won a special election to fill out the rest of Kwame Kilpatrick's term after he resigned following a felony conviction. To bring this city back from the brink, Bing says he's ready to make some unpopular decisions and says everybody is going to hurt.
Mr. BING: I think there are a lot of people who said they wanted change as long as it didn't impact them. And there's no way to implement change unless you're going to impact everybody across the board.
OVSHINSKY: To bring spending in line with the city's ever-shrinking pool of revenue, Mayor Bing has asked the city's 50-plus unions for major concessions, including a 10 percent pay cut. While he's asked his appointees to do the same, that has not appeased the rank-and-file.
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OVSHINSKY: The city's workers took Bing's 100th day in office as an opportunity to air their grievances. Outside City Hall, more than 200 city workers protested the proposed cuts. Wanda Brown works for the water department. She says the mayor needs to start at the top.
Ms. WANDA BROWN (Employee, Detroit Water Department): We did not put the city of Detroit in this deficit. We the workers did not do that, okay? So, whoever caused us to get into the deficit, you deal with them. Quit messing with us, the little people.
OVSHINSKY: The union protests come at an awkward time for Dave Bing. He's proposing cuts while trying to win reelection. Bing won a recent primary with more than 70 percent of the vote, but his opponent, Tom Barrow, hasn't let up. Barrow, a certified public accountant, insists Mayor Bing is unqualified for the job.
Mr. TOM BARROW (Certified Public Accountant): It's palpably clear that he is in so far over his head, he just doesn't understand how municipal finance works, he doesn't understand how city government functions and works, and he's having to be told things. And he's just clearly out of touch with Detroiters.
OVSHINSKY: But what Barrow sees as a liability, Bing sees as an advantage. The mayor plays up his outsider status.
With a little more than 100 days under his belt, Bing says he is realistic about what he can achieve in one or two terms. While the city will never be what it was, Bing says he's responsible for putting it on the right path.
Mr. BING: I'd like for us to be a fiscal, stable city; that we've created an environment where people feel good about saying I'm from Detroit.
OVSHINSKY: Mayor Bing says he's just being honest about the city's situation and asking Detroiters to make do with less - a risky message just a couple of months before an election.
For NPR News, I'm Noah Ovshinsky in Detroit.
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