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Mike Duggan will be Detroit’s next mayor, but will he take on Detroit’s emergency manager?

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

The Motor City has a new mayor, and his name is Mike Duggan. He’s Detroit’s first white mayor in decades, and he’ll be tasked with addressing the city’s $18 billion debt.

Now joining us to discuss this new mayor and his record is Kryistal Crittendon. She’s the former legal counsel to the city, until Mayor Bing fired her for opposition to the emergency manager. She joined one of the other mayoral candidates, Benny Napoleon, as candidate for deputy mayor after running for mayor herself and coming in third.

Thank you so much for joining us.


NOOR: So can you talk about what the reaction has been to the election of the first white mayor in Detroit in decades? And can you talk a little bit about his record, as well as what you think his strengths are?

CRITTENDON: Well, there hasn’t been a lot of reaction. You know. This issue of race, the people in the city of Detroit have never ever made race an issue. We vote for white candidates all the time. We’ve had white candidates run for City Council. We’ve had our first Hispanic candidate, who was just elected. It was a close election, 55 percent for the white candidate, as you say, and 45 percent for an African-American candidate. If we vote, we usually end up voting for white candidates on a national level. So I don’t think that the people here thought that it was so unusual to be in a position where they would be voting for a white candidate. We just normally don’t have anyone but African-Americans running for mayor. So there hasn’t been a lot of reaction.

The media tried to make race an issue in this case, and they still are trying to make an issue out of it. I think the people in this city at the end of the day wanted someone who is going to operate in their own best interests, whether that candidate be white, black, or other.

NOOR: And so you ran as someone opposing Mike Duggan. What would you say his shortcomings are? And what concerns you about his future term?

CRITTENDON: Well, I didn’t run opposing anyone. I was one of 15 candidates for mayor. We all got into the race at different points. I wasn’t opposing anyone. I was running on my own record and running on my own platform or agenda.

In this city, however, the media has in the past reported a number of Mr. Duggan’s shortcomings with respect to his record. The media has made it clear that they were endorsing Mr. Duggan for mayor and have actually–both of our two major newspapers here have endorsed him. So when they decided that they wanted him to be mayor, a lot of those stories that they had written in the past disappeared.

My issue with Mr. Duggan was that he has been or had been in communication with our governor about the appointment of an emergency manager here for the city of Detroit. And the residents in this city and in this state both went to the ballot booth last November and voted that we did not want emergency managers here. Yet our governor has appointed one notwithstanding our vote. We voted to repeal the emergency manager laws, 82 percent of Detroiters and 52 percent of the people across the state.

My biggest problem with Mr. Duggan was that he had been in communication with the governor about himself being an emergency manager for the city and about, if he wasn’t going to take the job, who the right person should be to take over that job and when that person should us assume that role. I think the emergency manager laws are undemocratic, and I was just not comfortable with supporting someone who had supported emergency managers when the people here said that we didn’t want one.

NOOR: And will Duggan call for the removal of the emergency manager and full authority return to the city itself?

CRITTENDON: I don’t believe that he will. There’s been some difference with respect to what exactly he’s going to do to try to help restore democracy here in the city of Detroit. Of late, as recently as today, however, it sounds as though Mr. Duggan is going to work with the emergency manager.

You know, emergency managers–I don’t know if people in Baltimore and other states and cities know what they do–they are dictators. They actually usurp the authority of your local elected officials, your mayor and your city council. They lose all authority to act on your behalf. Emergency managers are not elected by the people. They’re appointed by the governor. And they have the ability to come in and do things such as break contracts, sell off all of your assets, privatize your jobs, your government–your city jobs and services. And they’re not answerable to the people. They only have to answer to the party that appoints them. And so they really don’t need any help from your local elected officials.

I wanted a mayor who was going to work to try to restore democracy and bring back local control to the people of this city. All indications appear to be, however, that Mr. Duggan is going to cede authority to the emergency manager. And that was what my biggest concern was.

NOOR: And that ties in to the whole financial situation of Detroit. You argue that this has actually been greatly exaggerated. Can you talk about why you say that?

CRITTENDON: Right. You said the city has an $18 debt problem. And that is the number that the emergency manager came into the city in March arguing that he needed to address.

We do not have an $18 billion financial problem. Less than $3 billion of that $18 billion is our short-term debt, debt that is going to come due over the next six to eight years. And it comes due at a rate of $300 million plus per year. We have enough short-term debt owed to us; if we collected that money, we’d be able to take care of the short-term debt. Six billion dollars of the $18 billion is money that is going to be paid out over 30 years for some debt that belongs to our water department. The city of Detroit has a world-class water treatment facility. It’s been ranked number one in the world. And we have some outstanding bonds for improvements over to the Water Department, about $6 billion worth. But those revenues are secured by the revenues–those bonds are secured by the revenues that come into the department, and they’re going to be paid back over the next 30 years, and that money cannot be mixed with our general fund. So that money never should have been mixed in with the [incompr.]

Another $6 billion, roughly, is long-term health care and pension costs for our retirees. We have over 20,000 retirees here in the Metro Detroit area, retirees from city government. But they’re going to get paid out overc the next 30 years as well. None of them are going to get all of that money tomorrow. It will be paid out over 30 years. And for all intents and purposes, those pension funds are not in any immediate danger of being insolvent. I mean, there is some discussion as to whether we’re going to run out of money in 26 years, whether we’re going to have enough money to pay off all 30 years of the pensions that have been promised, but that does not constitute an emergency such that we should have had someone appointed to come in and just take away our democratic right to vote here in the city of Detroit.

And so I have quibbled with the $18 billion number. I think that there are other things that the city of Detroit could have done in order to bring in revenue. We have a number of local businesses, big businesses and corporations, who owe the city of Detroit probably about $1 billion worth of debt now that we’re not even trying to collect. And in the meantime, we are spending what will probably end up being $200 million on bankruptcy consultants, lawyers, and experts in order to prevent honoring somebody’s pension obligations.

And, you know, just so people know, the city of Detroit police officers and firefighters, they don’t get Social Security. They haven’t paid into Social Security. And so the only financial obligation that they’re going to get when they retire is going to be their pension, a pension that was promised to them from the city of Detroit, and a pension that I think that they’re entitled to.

NOOR: Thank you so much for joining us.

CRITTENDON: Thank you.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Krystal A. Crittendon was born and raised in the city of Detroit. She was educated in the Detroit Public Schools and graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1981. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Wayne State University and her juris doctor from the Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State University) in 1994. Prior to earning her law degree, Ms. Crittendon worked as a Caseworker for the State of Michigan’s Department of Social Services, where she worked while attending law school at night. Upon completion of the bar examination, Ms. Crittendon was hired in 1994 by the City of Detroit Law Department as a staff attorney. She is a former Executive Board Member of UAW PAA Local 2211. Ms. Crittendon held several positions within the department and was appointed Corporation Counsel by then-Interim Mayor Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr. in January of 2009. Ms. Crittendon was then appointed Corporation Counsel by Mayor Dave Bing in May of 2009 and reappointed by Mayor Bing in January of 2010. Ms. Crittendon served as Corporation Counsel until January of 2013. In January of 2013, Ms. Crittendon announced that she would be a candidate for Mayor of Detroit in the 2013 Detroit Mayoral Primary. She finished third out of thirteen candidates in the August Primary Election.