DETROIT — The last time there was a white mayor of Detroit, the Vietnam War was just ending and the nation was getting used to a Supreme Court decision called Roe vs. Wade.
But now this city, which is in the midst of a trial to determine whether it is eligible for bankruptcy protection, is set to elect its first white mayor since 1974, Mike Duggan, and by an overwhelming margin. Recent polls show Duggan up by a nearly 2-1 ratio over his opponent, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, in a city that is 82 percent black.
Duggan's lead is seen as a signal that the residents of long-struggling Detroit are ready for a change in leadership.
The political establishment did not make Duggan's road to Tuesday's ballot an easy one. The onetime hospital executive, who moved to Detroit from the affluent, mostly white suburb of Livonia, was kicked off the Aug. 6 primary ballot after opponents raised a court challenge questioning his residency status.
A frustrated Duggan withdrew from the race — until supporters persuaded him to run as a write-in candidate. He won more than 50 percent of the vote.
"He became this folk hero. It just kind of took on a life of its own," said Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a popular political newsletter.
Duggan was once the deputy executive of Wayne County, served as a county prosecutor and is widely credited with helping to turn around Detroit Medical Center with its eight hospitals.
The new mayor, whoever he is, will not have too much responsibility when he first takes office. Detroit is being run by Kevyn Orr, an emergency manager appointed by the state, who has taken the reins from current Mayor Dave Bing. The law that allowed Orr to be appointed sets up a potential exit route for him in a year.