Minister Malik Shabazz says he is known as “the blackest guy in town.”
As head of Detroit’s New Marcus Garvey Movement/Black Panther Nation, Shabazz has spent most of his life fighting for equal treatment of African Americans.
He once called former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer, who is black, an “Uncle Tom” for failing to back a black-owned casino.
And he thinks Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder does not have the interests of Black people at heart.
But these days, race relations are not much of a priority for Shabazz, given the monumental problems Detroit faces.
“We’ve got six-foot-high grass all cross the city,” Shabazz says. “We’ve got 10, 12, 15, feet-high weeds, we have illegal dump sites…[people] are breaking into everybody’s houses. Thieves who steal copper and aluminium when you leave the house — now they don’t care now and steal when you’re in the house.”
Which is why he’s endorsing white candidate Mike Duggan, for mayor.
“He’s the first white guy who really wasn’t afraid of me, so I dug that,” he told us by phone recently.
Duggan, who most recently served as CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, is pretty close to a lock at this point.
Which is fairly remarkable given that, if elected, Duggan would be Detroit’s first white mayor since 1973. Napoleon is black.
Shabazz says he first encountered Duggan in the late ’90s during the aforementioned fight for a black-owned casino.
As then-deputy Wayne County executive, Duggan supported the effort.
Though it fell through, Shabazz came away impressed with Duggan’s composure.
“He reminds me of myself in many ways … taking charge, ‘go get ’em,’ being very ballsy, intelligent, well-read, misunderstood by a lot of people,” Shabazz says.
It’s fair to say Duggan enjoys a wide support base, given he now has the backing of both Shabazz and Dan Gilbert, the Quicken Loans CEO (and Cleveland Cavaliers owner) who’s poured more than $US1 billion in reviving downtown Detroit, has also implicitly backed him. Gilbert’s Rock Ventures sent us a statement saying Duggan’s work resolving the medical center’s financial issues show he is well qualified to begin addressing Detroit’s.
But some see Duggan as an outsider representing the interests of the elite. A judge kicked him off the official primary ballot for failing to meet residency requirements, and he’s received about 80% of his financial support from groups outside the city (Napoleon’s level of non-local support is about the same).
Shabazz says the criticisms are spurious.
“I don’t see him as outsider,” he says, noting Duggan’s office was in the city. “He was born in Detroit, he went to school in detroit, he graduated high school here.”
And he sees Duggan’s corporate experience as an asset.
“We want somebody who’s connected to business and can help create a better climate here for businesses to operate.”
What about Napoleon, against whom Duggan faces in November?
“I have nothing bad to say about Sheriff Napoleon,” Shabazz says. “I think that he’s a good man. As a matter of fact I believe he’s a damn good man. But once again, our situation in Detroit, which is 82.7% African American … We don’t have the luxury of going with ‘the best Black.’ “
The list of issues Duggan will have to address is nearly endless, Shabazz acknowledges.
But he says he has two immediate items on his wish list: convincing companies to hire convicted felons — and convincing Snyder to withdraw emergency manager Kevyn Orr, whose installation Shabazz calls fascism.
“This is about a skill set, this is about managerial abilities. And if Benny Napoleon becomes mayor, I believe the emergency manager is going to stay for five or six years, like emergency managers have stayed in other cities across Michigan.”
He also admits he wouldn’t mind getting named to Duggan’s mayoral cabinet — and he’s willing to offer a more expansive vision of his grievances to get there.
“They’re running roughshod over us, they’re trampling over our rights — Black people, Latinos, working class whites, poor whites, unions, they’re turning back the clock.”
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