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Having Fun Yet, Mr. Mayor?
MICHAEL ROSENBERG
January 18, 2010
Running Detroit isn't a job, it's a sentence. That's no retirement gig for a 66-year-old NBA Hall of Fame guard turned millionaire entrepreneur, is it? Dave Bing thinks differently (though he won't begrudge you thinking he's crazy)
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January 18, 2010

Having Fun Yet, Mr. Mayor?

Running Detroit isn't a job, it's a sentence. That's no retirement gig for a 66-year-old NBA Hall of Fame guard turned millionaire entrepreneur, is it? Dave Bing thinks differently (though he won't begrudge you thinking he's crazy)

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So there they were on Nov. 3, Election Night: Bing, his wife and kids sitting in a suite at the Doubletree Fort Shelby hotel in downtown Detroit, waiting for all precincts to report. Bing sat on the couch, remote control in hand, watching a documentary on Barack Obama. He could have been downstairs with Detroit's most powerful people, drinking an Amstel Light, supporting somebody else's candidacy. He could have been at his place in Hilton Head, S.C. Wasn't that the original plan? For the last few years he had talked about retiring from Bing Holdings, the umbrella company that owned his steel, medical-supply and stamp-and-assembly businesses. He had even learned to play golf. Sixty-six-year-old men do not take up golf so they can save a dying city in the Rust Belt.

Media people rushed in. It was a photo op, a chance to get pictures and video of Dave and Yvette Bing in their hotel suite, waiting for election results. Cameras flashed, but nobody spoke. The Bings tried to appear comfortable under the TV lights.

The reporters took little notice of a third person on the couch: a man who goes by the name of Tap. That's it. Tap. Everybody around Bing knows him, but nobody seems to know his real name. All they know is that he is a friend of the mayor's.

After a few minutes the media was whisked out. Everybody in the room busted out laughing. Tap! You could have gotten up! Tap said it was no big deal. He knew he wouldn't end up on TV or in the newspaper. Guys like Tap, they always get cropped out of the picture.

Why did Dave Bing run for mayor of Detroit? Cassaundra says simply, "He felt he had to." A year ago, as former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration collapsed in a surreal conflagration of corruption, Bing and some friends talked about who could lead the city. "You're the only guy who can do it," the friends told him.

"When you [put it] like that," Beckham says, "it's hard for him to argue against it."

Bing had to move into Detroit to try to save it. Until recently he lived in a gated community in suburban Franklin, a village of three-car garages and vast manicured lawns. Now he lives on the riverfront of the poster town for the national recession. You almost expect to see a sign at the city limits: WELCOME TO DETROIT, THE MOST DOWNTRODDEN BIG CITY IN AMERICA.

Yes, people know Detroit is in bad shape ... but what do they really know? Do they know that the graduation rate for African-Americans in the Detroit Public School district is 20%? Do they know that the unemployment rate in the city was recently measured at 27%—and that by some estimates the actual number may be 20 to 25 percentage points higher? Do they know that the turnout in the May 5 special election to replace Kilpatrick, in which Bing first won the mayoralty, was only 15%?

Then there is the city's deficit, estimated to be approximately $325 million. And the city's median income, which in 2008 was $28,730—the lowest of any major city in the country.

Are you having fun yet, Mr. Mayor?

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