Author: ANNALISE FRANK Crain’s Detroit Business
Mayoral candidate Anthony Adams (left) speaks during a campaign launch event Jan. 26 with Frank Hammer, who co-chairs a coalition that opposed the Mayor Mike Duggan-backed redevelopment of the former Michigan State Fairgrounds as an Amazon.com Inc. facility.
Anthony Adams, who is challenging two-term Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in the Aug. 3 primary, includes a variety of issues in his campaign platform:
Crime: Back away from surveillance; turn more toward early intervention to prevent crime; decriminalize possession of some drugs
Seniors: Grants, not loans, for home restoration; make entrepreneurial incubators and accelerators for older residents; target frauds and scams
Social issues: Target racism in “insurance redlining” and bank lending; create chief education officer role; look at universal basic income; improve mental health services
Business: Grow existing small- and medium-size businesses, especially in recovery from COVID-19 pandemic impacts; “dramatically reduce” tax incentives
Sources: Interview with Anthony Adams and his campaign website
Detroit mayoral candidate Anthony Adams has laid out what he believes is a dramatically different approach to economic development from that taken by the city’s current leader, Mike Duggan.
In his bid against the incumbent Democrat and other potential challengers — including former City Council member Sharon McPhail — Adams is targeting corporate tax incentives, existing small businesses that need stabilizing and the breaking up of what he calls a top-heavy economic development machine.
The 65-year-old lawyer and former deputy mayor under Kwame Kilpatrick has a hill to climb when it comes to visibility and corporate community backing. But Adams’ own resume runs deep into the city’s public- and private-sector history, ranging from president of Lakeshore Healthcare Investment Group more recently to Detroit Public Schools board president in 2010-11 and executive assistant to Mayor Coleman Young in the 1980s.
“I think Motor City Match will have probably seen its last day with me,” the partner at Marine Adams Law PC said, discussing his economic policy goals with Crain’s.
Duggan’s grant-making program for entrepreneurs has drawn criticism over reports finding lack of sufficient oversight and questioning its success in starting new businesses.
Adams, a Cincinnati native, wants to target small businesses suffering amid the coronavirus pandemic. More specifically, looking at how traditional lending models aren’t working for them and what technical support they need — accounting and legal aid, for instance.
Duggan’s administration did help create a public-private partnership to give small businesses technical assistance during the pandemic and funneled grants to hundreds of businesses. It remains to be seen how small business support shakes out over the course of the election.
“I think we spend a lot of money trying to attract businesses through Motor City Match, create new businesses, and yet we missed the mark … by my estimate, 35,000 small businesses that have never gotten one dime of any subsidy,” Adams said, calling those businesses a formidable base of employers that needs to succeed to stabilize neighborhoods.
Adams alleges the impacts of Duggan’s policies have merely trickled down, not reaching neighborhoods that need the most help, and that community redevelopment needs to be restructured for less focus on a “central bureaucracy in downtown.”
“I’m talking about, we’ve got (the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.), Detroit Land Bank Authority, (Housing and Revitalization Department), all those things need to be streamlined,” he said. “You’ve got (community development) organizations that are out here doing the work … I don’t need to manage them and what they do, I need to let them do what they do.”
Adams also said he’d look at dismantling the Department of Neighborhoods while empowering City Council district staffs to do similar work.
One of the first things Adams said he would do as mayor is undertake a comprehensive review of the impact of the city’s tax abatement policies and tax capture districts.
Detroit abated $39.1 million in city taxes in fiscal year 2019-20, according to the city’s comprehensive annual financial report. Detroit abates a higher percentage of taxes than other comparable cities, according to City Council Legislative Policy Division reports. That abatement figure doesn’t include certain tax captures such as, for example, the 1-mill tax on downtown development district properties to fund the Downtown Development Authority or for the Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.
“If you’re getting … subsidies from Detroit, there needs to be a much more robust conversation about what your business practices are,” Adams said. “The tax capture is a major issue because we have so much possible income revenue for the city that’s only being circulated in the downtown development district. These tax captures really need to be addressed.”
Adams’ policy planks also include focusing crime efforts on engaging with residents and preventing crimes before they’re committed, protecting senior citizens and increasing homeownership. He’s pitching himself as an empathetic choice with an understanding of communities that don’t feel connected to the powers that be.
Depth of experience
The attorney is also pitching his depth of experience.
Adams’ resume includes a stint as interim director of the city’s Department of Water and Sewerage and a spot at law firm Dykema Gossett from 1991-93. He joined the Kilpatrick administration in 2005, and later Adams testified before the grand jury that indicted Kilpatrick. He was one of the only members of Kilpatrick’s inner circle to emerge from the federal corruption investigation unscathed and wasn’t named in any indictments, Crain’s previously reported. Kilpatrick was recently released from prison after President Donald Trump commuted his sentence during his final hours in office.
Attorney Darwyn Fair, who was partners with Adams in a Detroit law firm in the mid-1990s called Segue, Fair, Adams & Pope PLC, said they’ve been friends since Adams served as a law clerk for Eastern District of Michigan Judge Anna Diggs Taylor earlier in his career.
“I don’t want to oversell him, but the reality of it is he has the knowledge, he’s got the experience, he’s got the wherewithal, he’s got the temperament to be mayor of the city of Detroit,” Fair said. “… He has always been involved with the … business community, but also in the religious community, the community as a whole.”
LaMar Lemmons III, chief of staff for state Sen. Betty Jean Alexander, overlapped with Adams on the Detroit Public Schools board. At that time, in 2010, Adams was part of a lawsuit the board filed and won against a state-appointed emergency financial manager.
“In the positives, he was instrumental and supportive of our challenge to the emergency financial manger and his overreaching authority,” Lemmons said.
Adams performed his duties, though “we philosophically disagreed on many things,” Lemmons said. He declined to elaborate, adding that he hadn’t decided who to support yet and considered Adams “the lesser of the two evils” when it came to him and Duggan.
‘A massive race’
Adams is starting his run early — and he has a long way to go.
The Detroit Regional Chamber’s political action committee in January endorsed Duggan for a third election cycle. And Duggan’s corporate support from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, DTE Energy Co., Dan Gilbert’s portfolio of companies and Honigman law firm, for example, ensures he has deep pockets for the race. While still mulling a challenge to Duggan, former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo earlier this year questioned the viability, monetarily, of running against him.
Detroit’s unemployment rate has fallen dramatically under Duggan, from 21 percent in 2013 to 7 percent just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, an indicator Duggan has touted as a big sign of progress in the post-bankruptcy economic turnaround. However, Adams said Duggan’s positives haven’t extended enough beyond downtown and haven’t chipped away enough at poverty.
Detroit political consultant Steve Hood said the election will be all about how the field shakes out after the Aug. 3 primary — who’s against Duggan, and whether Duggan or that challenger will be able to coalesce the right votes.
“It’ll be a massive race. It’ll also be interesting to see how big the anti-Duggan vote is in the primary,” Hood said. “This will be much different than the primary four years ago because ( 2017 opponent Coleman Young II) was never a healer. In Adams you see the potential to be a healer. He’s a much less polarizing figure than Young was.”
The candidate filing deadline isn’t until April 20, and the field is likely to widen.
If Adams were to rise in visibility and nab the spot as Duggan’s challenger, he’d need to be able to draw in companies that didn’t win, so to speak, under the second-term mayor.
“I don’t think a lot of the legacy businesses have forgotten the help (Adams) gave them when he was deputy mayor for Kwame Kilpatrick,” Hood said. “I don’t think his experience with Lakeshore … is going to hurt him, having that. What Adams has to do is find those people who didn’t get the deals and get the money, (and) get their PAC money.”
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