During my time at the Daily, I’ve noticed that any editorial concerning the city of Detroit draws an unusual amount of ire from our readers. Apparently, much of this campus sees the Daily’s editorial voice as a product of suburban opulence that has no business commenting condescendingly on Detroit’s broken schools or particularly juicy political scandals.
But there is one example of an editorial on this page praising a new initiative in the city that has stuck in my mind for four years. As the man who was the driving force behind that initiative comes back into the news, I wonder just how much he can do.
In the fall of 2005, the Daily editorial board broke with longstanding precedent to come out in support of a plan for 15 charter schools to be built in Detroit (A plan worth following, 09/13/2005). Overcoming our general concern about charter schools taking away students and resources from the public system, the editorial board argued that Detroit’s students shouldn’t have to wait for the massive, failing public school system to correct itself.
We recognized, of course, the danger of allowing too many rich businessmen to offer flashy private alternatives. Schools that are the product of the ego and wallet of expectant barons may have adequate facilities and resources, but would they instill the right values or simply seek to create workers for the boss’s assembly lines? We balanced that danger with the immediate needs of schoolchildren and chose to support that particular charter school initiative. The deciding factor was the man behind the plan: Dave Bing.
Bing has brought the right sort of attention to Detroit all his life. Still best known for his time as an all-star guard for the Detroit Pistons, Bing played for Detroit in a particularly trying time period — the aftermath of 1967’s 12th Street Riot. In an era that heralded the end of Detroit’s days as a flourishing American metropolis, Bing won not only scoring titles but also respect for the city when it most needed it.
Upon retirement from basketball, Bing did what most modern athletes would certainly chafe at — he settled down in the city he had played for and started a new career. The product of that — The Bing Group, which is a group of manufacturing companies that employs hundreds of unionized employees in Detroit — is almost as impressive as Bing’s basketball achievements.
And now Bing wants to be the mayor of Detroit. The first-place finisher in the primary election last month, Bing will tip off against interim incumbent Ken Cockrel Jr. on May 5. Having followed the campaign relatively closely, I think it’s clear just how much Bing can do: As much as we let him. Unfortunately, that might be the problem.
As Detroiters debate whether Bing is a carpetbagger (he most recently lived in the suburb of Franklin before moving into a condo in Detroit shortly before entering the mayoral race), or whether his misstatements about when he got his college degree matter more than the fact that he actually got one (and then did enough in his life to warrant two honorary degrees), an important consideration seems lost in the madness: Bing is unquestionably the most promising candidate for a city that needs promise.
I understand why the aforementioned distractions manage to draw scrutiny from voters. It wasn’t so long ago that I found myself sick to my stomach every time I saw Mitt Romney on TV citing his business moxie as a qualification for the presidency — or worse, touting himself as a son of Michigan. Bing faces a similar stigma, which may explain why unions have thus far refused to back him (and why he drew the endorsement of the generally conservative Detroit News before the primary).
But while we may rightly be skeptical of businessmen moving into politics or of apparent carpetbaggers in general, it’s time for Detroit’s voters to make an exception for Bing — just like this page did four years ago.
Imran Syed was the Daily’s editorial page editor in 2007. He can be reached at email@example.com.