Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Detroit Mayoral Contest Increasingly Centers on Race

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Detroit Mayoral Contest Increasingly Centers on Race

Article excerpt

At a prayer breakfast last week, the Rev. Charles Adams, a former president of the local NAACP, needed just a few choice words to inflame the already racially charged contest for mayor of Detroit.

"They (the suburbs) want a mayor to shuffle when he's not going anywhere, scratch when he's not itching and grin when he's not tickled," said Adams, who is supporting Sharon McPhail in the nonpartisan Nov. 2 election.

Adams later apologized for the statement, which was widely reported and interpreted as an direct attack on her opponent, Dennis Archer.

The incident may be the defining moment in the campaign. Even though both candidates are black in a city that is 75 percent black, the campaign has centered increasingly on race.

It is reminiscent of campaigns of Mayor Coleman Young, who was a master at painting his opponents as water carriers of the affluent, white suburbs. Such tactics helped him stay in office for an unprecedented five four-year terms.

Young, 75, decided in June not to seek another term because of his faltering health and popularity. But Young endorsed McPhail last month, and since then the battle has focused less on crime, jobs and development and more on personalities, style and racial politics.

Under Young, Detroit made great strides for its black majority. But in the past two decades, the city has lost a third of its jobs, per capita income has slipped 25 percent and the poverty rate has doubled.

"The main issue in this campaign is can anybody raise Detroit from the ashes?" said Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics. "Is there life after Coleman Young?"

The answer will rest on either Archer, a lawyer and former state Supreme Court justice, or McPhail, a former prosecutor and now administrator with the Wayne County prosecutor's office.

Archer, who ran Young's 1977 mayoral campaign, says he decided two years ago that it was time for new leadership in Detroit. He began raising campaign money and gathering business and community support. …

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