New Detroit Mayor Aims to Draw Suburbs Back Into City Life
SHOULD Dennis Archer, the newly elected mayor of Detroit, require a reminder of the hard political road that lies ahead, he merely needs to walk the decrepit commercial artery known as Woodward Avenue.
The mayor should begin on the Detroit River at Renaissance Center, a foundering, brown leviathan of an office complex symbolizing the drawbacks of government efforts to induce business through fiat and largess.
Heading north, Mr. Archer would enter a ramshackle, third-world corridor of abandoned department stores, shops selling wigs or cheap clothes, and outlets hawking 99-cent merchandise.
The avenue would eventually lead Archer out of town to trim and affluent suburbs, where tens of thousands of professionals have found refuge from crime, drugs, and government mismanagement in the city.
During nearly 20 years in office, outgoing Mayor Coleman Young was accused of driving out investors, employers, and hundreds of thousands of Detroit residents by imposing a politics of entitlement and stirring conflict over class and race. Mr. Young, like Archer and 76 percent of Detroit's population, is black.
Archer must reconcile the two ends of Woodward Avenue if he hopes to renew Detroit and soothe racial and class rancor as prickly as in any other major American city, scholars and civic leaders say.
By achieving what he calls ``the healing of Detroit,'' Archer would set an example for other cities determined to revivify themselves and reverse suburban flight, they say.
There is a crying need for renewal in Detroit. In the last 40 years, the population has shrunk to half its peak population of 2 million. During the 1980s, the median household income of the city dropped by 20 percent to about $18,500. Today, 1 out of 3 Detroiters lives in poverty.
Detroit has demonstrated that a city cannot prosper without its suburbs.
``Cities and their suburbs grow and prosper together or they decline together,'' says Larry Ledebar, the director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. Without a robust city at the center, the economic and cultural activities of suburbia atrophy, he says.
``The model of a declining central city and prosperous suburbs is a very short-term one; it doesn't prove viable over the long term,'' Dr. Ledebar says.
In contrast to Young, Archer has invited suburban business leaders into his fold. He has also broken with Young by beginning to create a political coalition that comes close to representing all Detroit by ranging across racial, religious, and class lines.
``I've built the kind of broad, bottom-up support that will help me bring about a reversal for Detroit,'' Archer told the Monitor during the balloting on Tuesday. He noted his endorsements from 33 labor organizations across the city and the support from businesses in southeast Michigan, which helped him amass a campaign war chest of $3 million.
Archer's support is broad but shallow. Pre-election polls showed him receiving just 45 percent of the support among black residents of Detroit. He reinforced his power base by attracting 77 percent of nonblack voters, says Lyke Thompson, a professor of political science at Wayne State University.
In contrast to his opponent, Sharon McPhail, Archer appeals to comparatively well-off voters, says Dr. Thompson, quoting results of polling by the university.
``He's got a fairly big tent, with a broad section of people involved on the issues,'' says Thompson. (Archer finished with an estimated 57 percent of the vote.)
Still, Archer has far to go before he can claim to have assembled a coalition that speaks for all the most powerful groups in Detroit and gives him assurance of success in his key initiatives against crime and urban decay, say scholars and civic leaders.
In particular, Archer must win over some of Ms. McPhail's strongest supporters: the Detroit branch of the NAACP, blacks who oppose his inclusive, multiracial politics, and many influential church organizations that have long supported Young, McPhail's most powerful endorser.
Archer is likely to find a conversion of Young most difficult. The two politicians have steadily drifted apart during Archer's two-year campaign.
Young became one of the biggest issues of the campaign soon after he announced in June that he would not seek reelection. McPhail courted the endorsement from Young, but it proved a mixed blessing. It gave her access to Young's political machine. But it also suggested to voters that McPhail would not bring profound change.
While restoring a representative political order, Archer intends to tackle a second basic task: bringing order to Detroit's streets.
``The most pressing issue of the city is that of crime,'' Archer told the Monitor.
The mayor-elect has pledged to move from 276 to 380 police from behind their desks onto city streets.
He will also implement a program of neighborhood policing. Once streets are safe, business will more easily flow back into the city, Archer says.