Detroiters' reactions to Mayor Dave Bing's State of the City address were mixed Wednesday night, with many residents optimistic on his plans to improve city services and reduce blight and crime. Others, while pleased with Bing's willingness to take a stand against a state takeover, found the speech lacking in details on how the city will address its financial challenges.
City Council Member Ken Cockrel Jr., who lost the mayorship to Bing in 2009, was among the critical set. Cockrel said he felt Bing missed an opportunity to address both the city's financial situation and its crime problems head on.
"I wanted to hear a bit more substance and we didn't get that," he said.
Cockrel noted City Council has been more fiscally conservative than Bing in its budget proposals and in its plan to stave off state receivership. He added he is not opposed to a consent agreement with the state, but remained critical of the Bing administration's ability to carry out such an agreement.
Emily Doerr, one of the small-business owners to get a shout-out from the mayor, said she had hoped Bing and City Council would present a more unified front Wednesday night -- and in their attempts to right Detroit's finances. She noted several City Council members had held their applause at key points in the mayor's speech.
"Tensions are high enough," Doerr said. "We don't need to show public disdain."
Bing had praised Doerr's willingness to work with the city on permitting to found Hostel Detroit, her low-cost hotel for youth travelers. He also gave a nod to the owners of El Guapo Grill, the city's first licensed food truck, and 1917 American Bistro.
Doerr said she felt "flattered" to be mentioned, and added her interactions with the city had been overwhelmingly positive. She said the mayor's words were more than lip service to business owners.
Ernest Johnson, who watched the speech at the Butzel Family Center on Detroit's east side, owns a tire shop and other real estate in the city. He, too, appreciated the Bing administration's willingness to work with with small businesses.
"For any economy coming back, it's usually small businesses that affects it more than big businesses," said Johnson. "The main thing is to make it so the citizens aren't so quick to want to leave."
Rachel Klegon, who runs a nonprofit called Green Living Science that does environmental education in the Detroit Public Schools, said she wanted to hear more from the mayor on education.
"I would've liked to see more things about the schools, what the city would be doing with the schools," she said. "But it sounded hopeful."
A proposed anti-blight initiative drew special praise from some residents. Bing announced the city will offer property owners the chance to buy vacant city-owned lots adjacent to their properties for $200. The city has already sent purchase agreements to homeowners in Southwest Detroit, where the program will pilot.
Loretta Yancey, a Chandler Park resident who works with the community development group Lower Eastside Action Plan, said she hopes the program gets extended across the city.
"If it includes regeneration of a lot of our neighborhoods, I'm all for it," Yancey said, adding the next step would be to add safe housing to emptier areas. "We have nothing but vacant lots. ... If you could put spacious living or other facilities to rebuild or refurbish that area, that would be great for me and great for Detroit, period."
But while Bing did offer concrete proposals like the adjacent lot program and a $150 million investment in city streetlights, others felt his speech was far too vague to offer any real roadmap for city residents.
Nicole Brown works at one of the city's preeminent revitalization organzations, Midtown Inc. She's also a member of the Declare Detroit Steering Team, and organized a viewing party for the speech at Pulse Lounge downtown. She said she wanted more information on how the city would meet its financial challenges.
"The city is in a crisis like we have never seen before," she said. "People would have appreciated hearing from [Bing] directly what his plan was, what is going on with the process right now as the state review team digs into the city's records -- this was his opportunity to share that story with the public."
Annika Jensen said Bing was too long on small fixes and too short on addressing residents' real concerns.
"He was really underestimating Detroiters' intelligence," she said. "They know that their kids are suffering in school, they know their schools are at risk of closing, they know there aren't buses to get them to jobs, they know they're at risk of losing their jobs, they know they aren't safe in their own homes. They know that, they live that every day, and so for our leader not to acknowledge that -- it's frustrating."
Nate Wallace thought the mayor didn't lay out enough details about public safety, an issue he sees as of utmost importance to most Detroiters.
"That needs to be stressed a lot more," he said. "It definitely shouldn't have been a 30 minute speech. This is the time that you take the opportunity to lay everything out."
The Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, chair of Detroit's NAACP, by contrast, said Bing's speech left him feeling optimistic on public safety. He also appreciated the mayor's willingness to once again take a public stand against the possibility of a state-appointed emergency manager for Detroit.
But Anthony noted there's more to turning Detroit around than the city administration can achieve on its own.
"There's something for everyone to do," he said. "If all of us get a piece of this, we can get significant improvements in our daily life."