WASHINGTON, November 6, 2013 — On Tuesday night, Detroit — broke, bankrupt, corrupt Detroit — elected its first white mayor since 1974. Political operatives and skeptics are still wondering how a white guy from the suburbs defeated a black opponent, Benny Napoleon, 55-45, in a city that is 80 percent black.
In January 2014, when Duggan takes the oath of office, he may be helping to close a period of racial, cultural and economic divide. But for all the celebration and excitement of his election, Duggan still faces a grim reality: The Motor City is broke. By the time he moves into City Hall and the mayor’s Manoogian Mansion, he had better have a solid plan to deal with it.
Tuesday’s election meant more than just the novelty of a white man winning election in a black city. It sent a signal about race and diversity, and the ultimate importance of message over color.
Detroit was once a racially diverse city of over 2 million residents. It attracted young families and new immigrants, and they were able to find solid jobs and buy homes in metro Detroit. The dream of a diverse metropolis died in the wake of the 1967 race riots, which quickly motivated whites and other ethnic groups to move further away from the city, allowing the city’s remaining black populace to gain full control over the city.
Although part of Duggan’s highlight as mayor-elect is because he is not black, Duggan was not the only non-African American elected to serve. On Detroit’s southwest side, Council woman elect-Raquel Castaneda-Lopez walked into the banquet hall of a famous Mexican restaurant on Tuesday night after winning her election. Hispanic supporters surrounded Lopez of district 6, who was born to Mexican immigrants. Lopez, unlike Duggan, is believed to be the first ‘Hispanic’ person ever elected to not just the Detroit City Council, but Detroit politics overall.
Castaneda-Lopez’s election win became possible after metro-Detroiters approved having council elections based on districts, making it possible for locals like her to win without having to gain citywide recognition or run at-large. District 6, Lopez’s district, is the largest concentration of Hispanic voters and is among the cities largest area. However, Blacks and Hispanics aren’t the only one’s making up Detroit’s population; with other ethnicities ranging from Blacks, Hispanics, Arab-Americans, Indians and even polish communities nearby; bordering Detroit’s downtown.
Although Lopez is a first-time Hispanic candidate to serve in Detroit’s city council, she gained her recognition serving on the campaign for state Rep. Rashida Tlaib’; another rising star and minority of Arab-American heritage from Detroit. Rep.Tlaib, as well as her former senate colleague and now U.S. Representative Hansen Clark (D-MI), also identifies as something other than black, white or Hispanic; who himself identifies as part-African and Indian-American.
So why is ‘diversity’ so important for a city like Detroit? Well, it simply means that Detroiters are prepared, through their votes, to move Motown’ in the direction of cultural and social inclusiveness. Let’s face it, America’s most successful cities always appear to be diverse and reflect a cultural melting pot of ideas and innovation; which sustains economic growth. Although diversity, by itself can’t change a city, it can spark the catalysts for changing Detroit’s future—which at one time appeared to be bleak.
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