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Last Updated: November 03. 2009 3:12PM
Darren Nichols, Santiago Esparza and Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News
Detroit — Detroit voters head to the polls today for the fourth time in 2009 to choose a mayor for the next four years as well as a new-look city council.
Mayor Dave Bing, who faces challenger Tom Barrow, arrived with his wife, Yvette, seven minutes after the polls opened at 7 a.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church on East Jefferson. It took the mayor only four minutes to finish his ballot and affix an “I voted” sticker to his brown leather jacket.
He acknowledged has been a wearying eight months for Detroit voters but said Tuesday’s election is important because it sets a slate of officials to help guide the city through what promises to be a tough stretch.
Bing spoke of the “cloud” that continues to hang over the city — the almost weekly revelations about former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and the opposition he has encountered from unions that oppose his efforts to streamline city operations and handle Detroit’s budget crisis.
“I think we have achieved a lot in a short time,” Bing said. “The fact of the matter is we can’t keep doing what we have been doing. We have to change. We have to move on.”
Barrow, his wife, Patrice, and their son, Tom Jr., stopped at River House Apartments this morning to cast their votes.
The elder Barrow characterized today’s mayoral contest as choosing between despair and hope.
“Detroit voters are now in charge,” Barrow said. “They are going to make the selection. I believe Detroit voters know we need change.”
Bill Paxton, a 71-year-old Detroiter, also voted at River House and was among the first to vote there in the morning. The mayor’s race and a ballot measure to elect city council members by district had him at the polls early.
“Voting by district is one of the most important issues,” said Paxton, who gave his mayoral vote to Bing. “It would be more representative of the city. You will get to see everybody. It would be more inclusive.”
Marvin Morris, a mental health technician, supports Bing and planned to vote for the city council proposal, as well as backing school and county operation millages. Such measures may be necessary for the city to come out of its current rut.
“The way the county looks at Detroit now is the way people used to look at Cleveland — our economy, our crime, our dysfunction,” Morris said. “We are the new armpit of America, and it’s time to change that.”
Garvey Wilson, a 43-year-old who works as a vendor at Ford Field, said he believes the city has been through so much scandal and strife for a reason.
“I believe bad times are designed and sent to prepare us for the good times to come,” he said. “I believe the political system can suffer and rebound and repair itself because the people will be more careful now.”
But among those optimistic notes were others that spoke or frustration and anger.
“I can’t afford not to vote if I live in this city,” said Veronica Wright, who cast her vote for Barrow. “What’s going on in the city of Detroit is not working. We need to change, but we need to be thoughtful and make changes that count.”
For some, the only way to make sense of the available choices was to trust in a higher power. Kim Futrell-Johnson was undecided on several topics and said she was going to allow the Lord to guide her in the voting booth on all matters except mayor. She planned to vote for Barrow.
“Mr. Bing is in a difficult position. He’s done what he could. Kwame Kilpatrick did what he did, and we’re still getting over it. Ken Cockrell tried. But you need to wipe the table clean because that’s what will help this city.”
Five council incumbents — President Ken Cockrel Jr., Brenda Jones, Kwame Kenyatta, Alberta Tinsley-Talabi and JoAnn Watson — face 13 challengers. The nine-member panel is guaranteed a new look after incumbents Sheila Cockrel and Barbara-Rose Collins opted against seeking re-election. Martha Reeves lost in the August primary and Monica Conyers quit this summer after pleading guilty to bribery-related charges.
Detroit’s economic misery was on full display among those waiting to vote Tuesday. James Main, 64, is one of those who are frustrated with the people he’s elected in the past.
“We need someone who is going to come in and figure out what went wrong and hold people accountable for a change,” said Main who in semi-retirement works in Southwest Detroit as a school crossing guard.
“I voted for Tom Barrow not because I don’t like Bing, but because it just keeps getting worse.”
Nicasio Santana, 24, got laid off two months go from his line job at Johnson Controls. He chuckled when he said he came to vote because his parents told him to.
“You know, I’m not really sure if any of these people are qualified,” he said.
Elections Director Daniel Baxter said he’s expecting voter turnout to be between 20 to 25 percent, a prediction some political consultants say is optimistic. Baxter expects the return of absentee ballots to exceed 40,000.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Temperatures aren’t expected to top 45 degrees, a wind chill of 33 is forecast this morning, and rain and snow are possible.