Detroit’s Mayoral Election Is a Test of Recovery and Legacy

This notion of two diverging realities emerging from the city’s rebirth is the essence of Mr. Young’s pitch to voters. He reminds his audiences of Detroit’s past as a home to black leaders who “soaked the soil that we stand on with blood sweat, tears and toil” to now only find themselves forgotten, he says, in a fast-gentrifying city.

“What was all that work?” he tells his crowds. “What was the purpose of all of that, if now black folks and black senior citizens are going to be pushed out of this city?”

Along the streets here, talking about Detroit’s recovery is complicated. Yes, downtown, the gleaming buildings are occupied again — and now joined by fancy coffee shops, hip food trucks and a seemingly endless supply of young workers with IDs that hang from lanyards. But all that growth has felt like a stick in the eye to some residents, who view it as a taunting reminder of everything their remote neighborhoods still lack.

“The corporations, they’re better off now, but the citizens? They’re worse,” said Raymond Campbell, 75, a longtime Detroiter.

For Robert Stoman, 23, who works on cars northwest of downtown, the downtown renaissance has made little difference in his life. “Nobody pays attention to over here,” he said one evening, looking around at emptied blocks and boarded homes.

Mr. Duggan, who took office as mayor even as a state-appointed emergency manager was leading the city through bankruptcy to rid itself of $7 billion in debt, is quick to acknowledge that Detroit is by no means set.

“We’ve turned a corner, but things are still very fragile,” Mr. Duggan, 59, said in an interview in his 11th-floor office of a city hall that prominently bears the name of his chief challenger’s father: the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

Still, the shifts here, in a matter of a few years, are remarkable. After years of budget deficits, the city has had three years without one. Detroit has 65,000 new streetlights. Emergency medical services response times have dropped to about eight minutes, on average, from more than 18 minutes a few years ago, city officials say. The city’s population — once 1.8 million — has continued to drop, estimates from last year show, to about 673,000. But the rate of shrinking has slowed significantly, and Mr. Duggan asserts that more recent city utility connection records suggest that the population may be starting to climb.

Nearly 12,000…

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