Detroit: A Victory for Reason

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Two years ago, when the city erupted in five days of violent race rioting, Detroit discovered the fearful force that is coiled in ghetto despair. Last week Black Power flexed again in Detroit, encouragingly, this time at the ballot box. With solid inner-city support, Wayne County's auditor, Richard Austin, 56, became the first black in Detroit's history to win a place in the runoff for mayor.

Austin won his shot at city hall with an impressive victory in the nonpartisan primary. He was first in a field of 29 with 124,941 votes, roughly 38% of the total ballots cast. The runner-up, Wayne County Sheriff Roman Gribbs, 43, received 105,640 votes. Under Detroit's election laws, Austin and Gribbs, the two leaders in a primary contest, become the candidates for the mayoral runoff election that will be held Nov. 4. Both are Democrats. So far, neither man has evinced the personal appeal or dynamism that elected Incumbent Mayor Jerome Cavanagh; both candidates, however, preach moderation on the volatile race issue and evoke a sense of stability.

Each man boasts a progressive record as an administrator: Austin is credited with having helped to bring order to county finances, Gribbs cleaned up corruption in the county sheriff's office. Yet both remain unknown quantities. Neither Austin nor Gribbs has announced his plans for solving Detroit's problems—a disheartening array of urban ills, including crime, poverty, inadequate schools and lack of funds.

Little known last spring even among blacks, Austin was not the first choice of the city's black politicians. They sought William Patrick Jr., president of New Detroit, the community organization created to revive the city after the riots. Patrick would not run, so Austin became the black hope. The odds against his beating Gribbs in November are high. In the primary, Austin polled only 9% of the white vote. Detroit's population is about 40% Negro, but only an estimated 25% of the city's eligible voters are black. Gribbs will attract not only white moderates and some liberals, but also white conservatives, who are likely to vote for his pigmentation if not his politics. Even if he does not win, Austin's candidacy represents a victory of reason over violence in Detroit's ghetto, and yet another example of the growing black recourse to the political and economic tools of power.