BY SUZETTE HACKNEY
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing made a campaign promise that he wouldn’t live in the Manoogian Mansion, but he now says that mounting pressure from community stakeholders is forcing him to reconsider whether he should move into the city’s official mayoral residence if he is elected to a full term next month.
Bing said he’ll move to the home on the Detroit River only if it makes fiscal sense. The city has budgeted nearly $160,000 for upkeep of the property, which has sat empty for more than a year. It was last occupied by disgraced former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
“The Manoogian name is at risk here,” Bing said. “Right now, the image has been tarnished and if we’re going to change the city’s image, it could very well start there.
“But it’s got to be predicated on factual data,” he said. “Is it the right thing to do? Is it the cheapest thing to do?”
Bing’s administration has launched a survey to examine whether other large cities provide mayoral housing. So far, their preliminary findings haven’t supported a move, according to the incomplete survey the Free Press obtained.
Some on Bing’s team are all for move
Business leaders and other community stakeholders have been in Bing’s ear for months now, encouraging him to help exorcise the Manoogian Mansion ghosts of the past — simply by moving in.
Bing, though, while campaigning last November, said he would not live in the city-owned mansion and thought it should be used as a revenue generator, perhaps for weddings or other functions.
But if elected Nov. 3 to serve a full, 4-year term, will the mayor reverse himself?
“What we’re telling him is ‘We want you to do this. We know what you said, but we respectfully ask if you’d change your mind,’ ” said Freman Hendrix, a cochair of Bing’s turnaround team and a deputy mayor under former Mayor Dennis Archer.
“To many of laypeople in the community, they see it as a perk,” Hendrix said of the mansion. “I’ve always viewed the stretch limousine and suites at the Fox and Joe Louis as tools that the mayor has at his disposal to advance the city’s best interest. Having that facility — the Manoogian Mansion — available for him to bring in dignitaries, for him to bring in developers, gives him a place to take people to showcase the city, to sell the city.”
The mansion has been unused since former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick hastily moved out in September 2008, after pleading guilty to two felonies and resigning from office. City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr., who served as Kilpatrick’s replacement from that September to May, did not occupy the home.
Bing opted to become the city’s first elected mayor to forgo living in the mansion, which sits on the Detroit River.
In part, Bing said, the house needed a cooling period because it had gained notoriety during the Kilpatrick administration as the supposed site of a wild party involving a stripper. Though the party was never proven, rumors of it helped ignite the chain of events that led to Kilpatrick resigning and going to jail.
The mansion became the backdrop for many TV broadcasts during the text message scandal involving Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff.
Bing said living in the house hasn’t been a focus for him. “I’ve been blessed,” the former NBA standout said, “so I’ve been able to pay my own rent, so I’ve resisted it, even though it’s always been popular from an image standpoint.”
A foundation once existed to help pay the costs of furnishing the home and other expenses, but it has become defunct. For the past 10 years, the city has budgeted $150,000 to $160,000 a year to manage the property. The mayor’s executive protection unit still guards the house and stores equipment there.
Charles Beckham, Bing’s chief administrative officer, said a “comprehensive process” will be considered to study how costly it would be to have the Bings move into the Manoogian, as well as other options, such as leasing the house for public events to help chip away at the city’s deficit.
“The mayor, of course, campaigned on not using the Manoogian — well, there’s still a lot of pressure out there, believe it or not, that the mayor should live there,” Beckham said. “But before we do that, since we’re talking about a huge city cost, we want to do the analysis. … It might make sense politically; it might make sense from an appearance standpoint, but it also needs to make sense from a cost standpoint and burden on the city.”
Shortly after taking office, Bing moved from a rented condo near Jos. Campau and East Jefferson to a 3,851-square-foot condo on a peninsula that sticks into the Detroit River.
Last year, Bing moved from a mansion in Franklin to run for mayor.