DETROIT – As his tumultuous tenure winds down, the post-mortem on Mayor Dave Bing has begun.
From my perch, I can say Bing was a mayor who preferred to get his nails polished but never dirty. As a consequence, the city of Detroit slid into anarchy. Hizzoner was good at ribbon cutting but seemed unaware that there were no ribbons left to cut.
In his last official act as mayor, Bing held a news conference announcing the final 13 ambulances donated by the business community were now on the road. The truth is those ambulances are parked in a garage somewhere buried under red tape.
That's Dave in a nutshell.
Ultimately Bing's legacy will be that he was the mayor who presided over Detroit as it fell off the cliff of bankruptcy.
Some will rightly argue that Detroit's financial morass was 50 years in the making, around the time Bing became the first-round pick of the Detroit Pistons. True as that is, it ignores the very real possibility that Detroit would not have had to claim insolvency if Bing done his job competently.
Lansing insiders tell me that had Bing followed the consent agreement laid out by Gov. Rick Snyder, the governor would not have felt compelled to push the city into Chapter 9. But Dave dithered and here we are, wondering if our retirees will have to live from the cat's bowl.
Restructuring of the big-ticket departments like Procurement, Building and Safety, and Planning and Development ever happened. Sweetheart contracts were still the rule of the day. The Belle Isle deal with the state died in the water. The pension funds were never honestly appraised. No serious restructuring plan was put forth.
Bing was unable to build coalitions, famously snubbing City Council for more than a year. His administration lacked expertise and organization – Bing preferring long, boozy lunches. To his credit he often picked up the tab.
He oversaw a carousel of directors and administrators – I lost count after 70. At first his inner circle was capable. By the end they were pillow-fluffing cronies. In his four and a half years, there were five chiefs of police and three fire commissioners and too many deaths.
Routinely, Bing's department heads blew a hole through their budgets. Bing likes to say he cut city employees, but mostly those were phantom paper employees, not actual breathing employees. He offended the business community that got him the job in the first place and they abandoned him.
Bing had plenty of help. City Council President Charles Pugh blew town after a mother of a teenager claimed Pugh was grooming her son. The gavel fell to Gary Brown, who then quit the council to take a high-paying job with the emergency manager for doing what appears to be not much. Kwame Kenyatta also quit, but nobody noticed much since he stopped voting in protest after the consent agreement was signed.
People like to say Bing restored integrity to the office after the nightmare of Kwame Kilpatrick, who now resides in the federal jug for treating the city like it was his personal piggy bank. Not much of a yardstick, I say.
Thanks for your service, Mr. Mayor. I can't wait for the memoir.