New Detroit Mayor Has Tall Order To Fill Dave Bing was sworn in as mayor of Detroit earlier this month. The NBA star-turned-businessman-turned-politician will have to draw from all of his years of experience to help this city, which is failing financially and is adrift politically.
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New Detroit Mayor Has Tall Order To Fill

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New Detroit Mayor Has Tall Order To Fill

New Detroit Mayor Has Tall Order To Fill

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Of course, the troubled car industry is just one of Detroit's problems. The city's politics were thrown into disarray when the former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was caught up in a scandal. He ultimately resigned in disgrace late last year. Detroit's voters recently elected their new mayor. His name is Dave Bing. He's a political novice who made his name on the basketball court. And Noah Ovshinsky, of member station WDET, has this profile.

NOAH OVSHINSKY: I'm standing outside the Manoogian Mansion, the official mayoral residence here in Detroit. The house is huge. The stone exterior doesn't have a crack in it and the landscaping is immaculate. It's eerily empty now. But during Kwame Kilpatrick's stay here, the property came to represent his extravagant lifestyle, which often made front page news.

Mayor DAVE BING (Detroit): I think I'm low key.

OVSHINSKY: That's Dave Bing, successful auto supplier, NBA hall of famer, and now Detroit's mayor.

Mayor BING: I'm not one of those persons that gets up and yells and screams, and needs attention. I'm comfortable in my skin. I know who I am. I like who I am. It's going to be very hard for me to change who I am.

OVSHINSKY: Unlike the man whose term he's finishing, Bing won't live in the Mayor's official residence. Kwame Kilpatrick, who was elected at age 31, was dubbed the Hip-hop Mayor. Bing is anything but. The tall 65 year old looks like the basketball player turned CEO that he is.

Mayor BING: I came up in a team sport environment, and in order to be successful, you not only needed to have talent yourself, but you had to understand and respect the other people around you. And I do that in business and I'll do that in government.

OVSHINSKY: Bing's transition period has been brief but he's already put together an economic recovery team and re-organized the structure of City Hall. From the moment he was sworn in, Bing has had to put out political fires, like when GM recently announced it won't rule out moving its headquarters out of Detroit as part of its restructuring. Bing says he's been assured it's not being considered.

While the motor city has been one of the hardest hit in this economic downturn, the seeds of its economic misfortune were planted long ago.

(Soundbite of noise)

OVSHINSKY: Mike Duggan is the CEO of the Detroit's largest hospital system and someone who wields a lot of influence in the region. At the recent breakfast gathering of Detroit's business elite, called Pancakes and Politics, he acknowledged that change won't happen overnight. But he says, a business man is exactly what Detroit needs right now.

Mr. MIKE DUGGAN (CEO, Detroit Medical Center): You need the street lights to work, you need the buses to run on time, you need the garbage picked up. What people want are the city services to work every day. And a man who can run a steel company, I think, can get the city services to work and that would have a real effect on the quality of life.

OVSHINSKY: Also at the breakfast was a Detroit Free Press columnist who often sets his sights on city hall. Brian Dickerson says Detroiters have been embarrassed by their leaders for far too long.

Mr. BRIAN DICKERSON (Deputy Editor, Detroit Free Press): Indictments, resignations, City Council meetings that show up as most watched videos on YouTube - if you're part of this area that's humiliating.

OVSHINSKY: Embarrassments aside, there are lot of people struggling here and many residents view the political process with a mixture of cynicism and apathy. Only 15 percent of eligible voters turned out for this month's mayoral election. Detroiter Michael Maxwell(ph) did not go to the polls.

Mr. MICHAEL MAXWELL: You know, it's corruption all through the systems, so it doesn't matter who gets in or who's elected.

OVSHINSKY: Dave Bing's life up until a few weeks ago could fit into two acts: first, basketball; the second, business. Now many in a city which is being rocked by controversy and economic misfortune hope he finds as much success if not more in his third act.

For NPR News, I'm Noah Ovshinsky in Detroit.

GREENE: You could tell from Noah's report that Mayor Bing has a tough job ahead. Detroit City Council is preparing to approve the budget today. And the city faces an estimated $300 million deficit. The proposal also calls for some 800 city jobs to be eliminated. To read more about Mayor Bing's life before politics, you can visit our Web site at npr.org.

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