In May 2009, the former Detroit Pistons basketball player Dave Bing became Detroit’s Mayor, and his record over the six months that followed was at least enough to convince voters to return him to office in the regularly-scheduled election that took place in November of the same year. He was initially elected on a 15% turnout, a figure that speaks volumes for the disenchantment of those who reside in a city that is generally portrayed as an economic basket-case, challenged only by a post-Katrina New Orleans for the title of the most crisis-ridden, poverty-stricken city in America. Unlike New Orleans, which can attribute a significant part of its current woe to the damage wreaked by one of the most destructive hurricanes in the nation’s history, Detroit’s perilous state cannot be blamed on a natural disaster. Like most major American cities, Detroit lost much of its population and its tax base in the second half of the 20th century, as the suburbs became the favored location for residential, retail and commercial developments. In recent years, the decline of the auto industry has decimated Detroit on an unprecedented scale. Chrysler and General Motors have been bailed out by the federal government and currently seem set for survival, at least, but this era of globalization is likely to prevent them from ever returning to their former glory, and tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost. Detroit’s famous Motor City moniker is a testament to it having put all of its eggs in one basket. I am not sure if, and to what extent, the city’s authorities tried to diversify Detroit’s commercial base in more prosperous times, but the folly of building a city around a single industry is sadly there for all to see. Today, there is little doubt that Detroit requires a dramatic new strategy, and here is Mayor Bing’s Vision for Detroit: http://www.bingformayor.com/vision.asp

In light of such a depressing situation, what chance does a former NBA star with no political experience have of reviving the fortunes of this once great city? From the outset, the jury has been very much out. Guests on NPR – http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103845759 – were certainly skeptical, claiming that Bing lacked ideas and that the federal government would not allow him to have any input into the one matter that would affect Detroit’s citizens the most: the auto industry. ESPN, while agreeing that Bing had not laid out a clear agenda for the change he promised, argued that his winners’ mentality was exactly what this city needed to give it a fighting chance of a bright future: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=090430/bing. It would be easy to accuse the ESPN writer, Jamele Hill, of drawing an overly simplistic analogy between the sporting and political arenas, but his analysis runs deeper than that, and around 900,000 Detroiters must pray that Mr. Hill will be proved right.

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