From The Mag: Motor City Men

From The Mag: Motor City Men

By Suzette Hackney. Excerpted from the summer 2014 issue of Michigan Alumnus magazine

*UPDATE: Orr cedes control*

Via Detroit Free Press:

The Detroit City Council, with the approval of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, voted unanimously Thursday to remove Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr (as it is entitled to do under state law) pending the end of the city’s historic bankruptcy. In return, Orr agreed to transfer operational control of the city to Duggan and the council, effective immediately.


As mayor and emergency manager of Detroit, former U-M classmates Mike Duggan and Kevyn Orr find themselves with the shared goal of guiding the city through bankruptcy.

The two men roamed the halls of U-M’s Law School and even shared a class or two. But back in the early 1980s, Kevyn Orr, ’79, JD’83, and Mike Duggan, ’80, JD’83, had no idea that their career trajectories would force them into such a high-profile partnership.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan chats with fellow U-M graduate Barbara McQuade, ’87, JD’91, during the Crain’s 2013 Newsmaker of the Year event.

They will go down in the history books—for good or for bad—as the men who steered Detroit through a historic municipal bankruptcy, the largest of its kind in America.

In March 2013, Orr accepted an 18-month appointment as emergency manager. The assignment required him to relocate from Washington, D.C., to the Motor City to restructure Detroit’s finances. Four months later, he would file bankruptcy on behalf of the city. Duggan, meanwhile, was in the thick of a mayoral campaign and adamant that the city did not need an emergency manager. He was elected in November and sworn in as Detroit’s 75th mayor on January 1, 2014.

“We’ve managed to work it out where we’ve divided the work under each of our strengths, and he’s doing the bankruptcy and I’m running the city’s operations,” Duggan said. “We’re working together professionally— it’s a professional relationship. But there’s just been enormous support from everybody—in the neighborhoods, in the business community.”

ORR, WHO GREW UP IN SOUTH FLORIDA, had an early affiliation with U-M. His mother did her graduate studies in Ann Arbor in the mid-1960s, and he would visit her during the summer months with his father. . He was only 6 and 7, but he remembers being excited with the political activity and social activism.

Kevyn Orr, Detroit emergency manager, visited the U-M campus in March to speak at the Ford School of Public Policy. 

After graduating from high school, Orr returned to Ann Arbor—sight unseen since age 7—in August 1976 to begin his freshman year. Orr says he owes his career to the University. He describes it as a unique environment, a kind of incubator or lab for thought, expression, and expansion. “In my opinion, I wouldn’t have done anything that I’ve done with my life if I hadn’t gone to Michigan,” he said. “I am sure that I would have had none of the opportunities that I had.”

DUGGAN WAS BORN AND RAISED IN DETROIT. U-M was in his backyard, and though many of his friends and peers were leaving the state to attend college, he was committed to staying. He said he had always had an affinity for U-M, so the decision of where to attend college was not difficult.

Duggan did not want to share many details about his undergraduate and law school days, calling that time in his life “personal stuff” and sacred. “I liked everything about it—I liked the people, I liked the academics, I liked the athletics.”

“We are seeing the consequences of 60 years of neglect and mismanagement here, and my obligation is to clear the table of the old plates, set the table for the new plates, and clean the linen. But the meals and the service are going to be done after I leave,” Orr said. “The needs of the city are not in debate, and that’s what drives the mayor and I.”

Duggan – Courtesy of Crain’s Detroit Business and Eighteen Photography
Orr – Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

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