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Detroit mayor promises more jobs, less blight for bankrupt city

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan gives the first State of the City address since the city declared bankruptcy, in Detroit February 26, 2014. REUTER
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan gives the first State of the City address since the city declared bankruptcy, in Detroit February 26, 2014. REUTER

By Rachel Jackson

DETROIT (Reuters) - Nearly two months into his tenure as Detroit mayor, Mike Duggan outlined a plan for adding jobs and removing abandoned buildings in the bankrupt city during his first state of the city address Wednesday night.

The mayor's speech came just days after a state-appointed emergency manager filed his roadmap in federal court for dealing with the city's debt and investing in its future.

Duggan, seeking to find an agenda of his own while operating in the shadow of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, is doing what he can with the bankrupt city's limited resources to make headway on some of its most visible problems: decreasing urban blight and creating safe neighborhoods.

"These problems are not unsolvable," he said.

And he said that his promise to make a difference in the city in his first six months in office has already produced real change.

The new mayor traced the city's problems down to jobs, outlining plans to attract and grow more businesses and get people to work through an improved and expanded bus service or by making car ownership less expensive through city-sponsored auto insurance.

"In my mind, everything starts with a job," he said.

Duggan also took aim at the abandoned buildings on 18.5 percent of the city's 377,000 parcels of land by tapping unused insurance money for targeted demolitions and filing lawsuits against owners of abandoned properties.

The mayor reached out to Detroit's 9,000 city workers, noting they continue to do their job despite pay cuts and the prospect of reductions in their pensions.

"The greatest experts in how we improve our service are not the consultants we hire. It's the men and women doing the job every day," Duggan said.

The debt adjustment plan, which was crafted by Orr and a team of consultants and filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court last Friday, calls for reductions in retiree pensions that could be as much as 10 percent for public safety workers and 34 percent for general city workers.

"As you might expect, the plan of adjustment made everyone unhappy," Duggan said. "I know the challenges are going to be difficult in court, but I join with the majority of Detroiters in saying...that every effort will be made to honor the pensions of the men and women (in the city)."

Orr, who controls Detroit's finances, reached a deal in December allowing Duggan to run most of the city's day-to-day business. Orr has been pushing for fast-track treatment of the city's historic bankruptcy case filed in July as his 18-month appointment as emergency manager ends in seven months.

"When the emergency manager's term expires on October 1, there is no question that the city of Detroit will return to democracy," Duggan said.

(Reporting by Rachel Jackson in Detroit; Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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