Native Detroiter Andrae Townsel wears many hats: He’s in school to get his doctorate in education administration, works as the dean of students at a Washington D.C. public school, raps and even had a stint as a professional football player (albeit on a Canadian Football League team).
Now, Townsel has a new plan. He’s running for mayor of his hometown, heannounced Saturday.
The Detroit mayoral race for 2013 hasn’t hit full steam yet, but several other candidates have showed interest in the top city position. City Council President Charles Pugh announced earlier this year he would not run for re-election to his current position and is considering a run for mayor, and state Rep. Lisa Howze (D-Detroit) announced her candidacy in February. Then there’s Mike Duggan, CEO of Detroit Medical Center — while he’s confirmed nothing, rumors of a run have beenmounting.
For now, Mayor Dave Bing has focused on the work at hand and has not announced his plans for 2013, though he hasn’t ruled out seeking a second term.
Compared to other possible candidates, Townsel, who grew up on Detroit’s west side and graduated from Cass Technical High School before getting a scholarship to Howard University in D.C., is younger and less immersed in city and state politics. But he argues his passion for his hometown, innovation and leadership abilities will make up for his lack of experience.
HuffPost Detroit caught up with Townsel to discuss the city and his plan to run for mayor.
Why did you decide to run for mayor?
I ultimately decided to run for office when the emergency financial manager was an issue. I saw how we were fighting tooth and nail to keep that from happening, and I saw how we had to sign a consent agreement and create two positions out of an already tight budget. People’s hearts were broken in the city, mainly with what happened in the past and also because democracy and our democratic process were threatened.
How does your work in education prepare you for a job in politics?
The leadership component of public service … as an educator you’re dealing with public and then managing large bodies of people within a district as well as decision-making skills understanding the policy process. I have the ability to lead and the talent to lead.
What would you offer Detroit?
Detroit No. 1 needs to be inspired. I feel a lot of our residents have been let down, hyped up and let down, hyped up and down. We’re losing residents, people are moving away to the suburbs or another state.
Instead of running away from the city, I want to come back and offer my talents and resources I’ve developed while away. I have the perspective of being an insider from Detroit and the outsider of being away while studying. I think I have the resources from the people I met out here, I can bring those resources back to the city as well as what the city already has to offer.
I see how an inner city can be run and run effectively in the nation’s capital, and that’s almost a blueprint for how Detroit can be.
What would be some of the most important issues you would work on if you were elected mayor?
I’d love to work with city services. Response times from EMS and fire and the police department. Public transportation — that’s just standard. There’s an expectation that services be delivered. One of the main things I provide is a sense of urgency for restoring city services, and as a service leader I’d be on the front lines.
This is not coming from a political standpoint this is coming from my heart. It’s not a game to me; this is home, this is family, this is friends.
As the city struggles with its deficit, one of the ways Mayor Dave Bing has attempted to provide services while trimming the budget is through privatization. Do you have thoughts on that?
I don’t have a problem if we’re privatizing with the city entrepeneurs who live in the city, but I wouldn’t go to any other neighboring city and ask for them to assist us. I would employ people within our city.
How will you deal with your lack of experience in city politics?
People can talk about experience all they want, that’s fine, but my thing is it’s about the potential. I have experience with different sectors, and I know the city like the front and back of my hand. In school I learned to be well-rounded and surround myself with a team. If I go into office I’m going to surround myself with a Superbowl-calibre team. Everything I’ve ever done, whether it’s academically, musically or athletically, it’s at a high level, earning honor and recognition, and that’s a pattern.
People say Barack Obama didn’t have the experience to lead the U.S. and in my opinion he’s done a great job.
You live in D.C. with your young son and wife, who’s a doctor. Would it be a challenge to uproot your family?
I always come back home, I’m back and forth. She understands the passion I have for my hometown, and she’s supportive 100 percent. She thinks Detroit would be a wonderful place to raise a family, and I always wanted to raise my family here.
What else should Detroiters know about you and your vision?
I don’t remember what author I read this from but I’d like to quote something. I heard if you go to the people, learn from them, live with them, start with what they know and deal with what they have, the best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say “we have done it ourselves,” not look what he has done, but what have we done. I think that’s the type of leadership I bring.