Detroit's annual State of the City address is a time for the city's leader to bring focus and a sense of purpose to the arguably huge task of saving the Motor City from insolvency.
But when Detroit Mayor Dave Bing took to the stage Wednesday evening, the bulk of his speech, delivered to a less-than-enthused audience, cycled mostly through his administration's achievements.
Recent subjects of tension -- City Council's refusal to vote on the state deal to lease Belle Isle and Bing's following announcement that he would close 50 parks -- were completely absent from the speech. Though he made a passing, almost ominous reference to the possibility of state takeover ("No emergency manager to date"), Bing didn't address Detroiters' questions about who will be running their city head-on. While Bing acknowledged that he's made some unpopular decisions in office, he also laid some blame at the doorstep of the state of Michigan.
"We also need to put into perspective the State‘s role in our city‘s deficit over the years," he said. "The total amount of cutbacks in State revenue sharing to Detroit over the past eleven years is more than $700 million. Detroit‘s current general fund deficit is $327 million. So, it is clear that if Detroit had received its agreed upon share of revenues from the State, our financial picture would not be as grim today."
Bing referenced the belt-tightening choice to outsource three City departments, which received some criticism last year, as well as removing nearly 4,000 employees from the city payroll and reducing spending from $1.4 billion in 2009 to a projected $1.1 billion in 2013.
"I‘ve made some unpopular decisions," he said. "But nonetheless, they were decisions that had to be made to save Detroit and our residents from an uncertain future."
One of the most crucial issues to Detroiters is violent crime. Murders rose last year by nine percent and a poll of residents cited crime as one of the biggest reasons they wanted to leave the city.
The mayor announced a new Detroit Police Department initiative, Detroit One, in which the city will partner with state and federal law enforcement to crack down on gun users and violent gang organizations. Bing said the goal is reduce violent gang-related crimes by 25 percent in the next year, though the speech did not touch on specifics. He also said planned department restructuring is designed to get 80 percent of officers on patrol. But Bing didn't name a permanent successor to the Detroit Police Department, which has had a temporary head since DPD chief Ralph Godbee resigned in scandal last year.
Another critical quality of life issue, blight, got a mention from Bing. He said that after demolishing 6,700 vacant properties to date, they were on track to fulfill his first-term promise of razing 10,000 abandoned structures.
"It's time to transform the image of Detroit and we must do it by working together," he said.
One of the more interesting tactics to improve the city's look and safety comes from the Detroit Blight Authority. Bill Pulte of homebuilding company Pulte Homes and Detroit stakeholders were responsible for the recent mysterious bulldozing near Eastern Market, he revealed. The Authority razed abandoned buildings and cleaned debris, which will be recycled, in a 10-block area. They will reseed the vacant sites to stop weeds from spreading.
The speech hit many other expected notes, pointing to the work towards a lighting authority, the Department of Transportation's attempts to improve service, a new payroll system, the tax amnesty program and development wins.
In a moment of lightheartedness, Bing acknowledged developer Dan Gilbert, who has been acquiring real estate downtown at a steady clip:
"Dan has gone on a shopping spree of sorts," he said, before continuing on to thank him for helping to revitalize the city. He also called out Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Illitch, ongoing Meijer and Whole Foods builds, as well as a host of minority entrepeneurs.
Though Bing's State of the City, bar a few new announcements, focused much more on past achievements than the future, he ended it with a line that could almost suggest the mayor -- who has not announced whether he will run for re-election -- is not done with Detroit just yet.
"I remain committed to bringing about further change so that our citizens can live in a city that is safer and provides the quality services they deserve, " he said. "We will and we must transform Detroit . . . one neighborhood and one family at a time."
What did you think about Bing's State of the City address?