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Bankruptcy clouds Detroit mayoral primary election

Corey Williams, Associated Press

Detroit mayoral candidate Benny Napoleon, left, jokes with talk radio host Mildred Gaddis at Fishbones restaurant, his first campaign stop after casting his ballot Tuesday morning in the primary election, in Detroit, Mich., on Aug. 6, 2013. The top two vote getters of the 14 candidates for mayor will be on the ballot in November's general election. (AP Photo/Detroit News, John T. Greilick) DETROIT FREE PRESS OUT; HUFFINGTON POST OUT

DETROIT (AP) -- Polls have closed in Detroit as voters cast ballots to narrow a crowded field of mayoral candidates down to two, even as many residents wondered what role their next leader will have with an emergency manager now in charge of the checkbook.

With 446 of 614 precincts reporting, more write-ins had been counted than any for a single candidate whose name was printed on the ballot.

Write-ins held 51.1 percent of the vote, while Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon trailed in second with 30.6 percent.

Napoleon, along with former Detroit Medical Center chief Mike Duggan — who waged a feverish write-in campaign after his name was kicked off the ballot due to a residency issue, were considered two of three front-runners for the mayor's office.

The top two vote-getters for mayor will move on to the November general election, but that winner will take over an office in January with no immediate control over city finances or Detroit's future. State-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who controls the city's finances, last month made Detroit the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.

City Elections Director Daniel Baxter said about 17 percent of Detroit's registered voters made it to the polls Tuesday or cast absentee ballots.

The nonpartisan primary also featured City Council, City Clerk and other races.

Along with Napoleon and Duggan, accountant Tom Barrow also was expected to show well in the mayor's race among the 14 candidates on the ballot and two write-ins.

Duggan's chances were considered threatened when unknown Detroit barber Mike Dugeon made a last-minute filing as a write-in. Some believed the similar spellings of their names might confuse voters.

It didn't confuse Leilani Thornton, 61, who called Duggan the best qualified candidate to guide Detroit under an emergency manager and through a bankruptcy.

"He would know how to work within that system to help move the bankruptcy along faster," she said. "I saw firsthand what he did at DMC. I know he has great contacts and knows how to work with people."

For Virgie Rollins, who voted for Napoleon, a former Detroit police chief, the next mayor must be able to deal with the bankruptcy.

"Sheriff Napoleon can work with the federal government," she said. "He knows how to work with people there."

Some of the favorites for mayor have come out against the filing, and say they will work with Orr only if they have to.

"My pitch to him is, 'You're here to straighten out the finances. You have no municipal government experience,'" Napoleon said. "The emergency manager puts the budget together. The mayor should be able to set the priorities."

Napoleon and Barrow contend Orr was illegally appointed as emergency manager.

"In light of the bankruptcy filing, I don't believe he retains his power under state law," Barrow said of Orr. "Bankruptcy laws kick in. Those laws are explicit that the debtor is the municipality and its elected officials."

The candidates are seeking to succeed Mayor Dave Bing, who is not seeking re-election. None of the candidates has name recognition outside the city like Bing, a former NBA great.

Uncertainty and failure have been standard operating procedure for years in once-mighty Detroit. Last month, it became the largest city in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy under the weight of massive debt brought on by crushing population decline and a history of political corruption and mismanagement.

Seeking to bring stability and turn the city around, GOP Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Orr, a national bankruptcy attorney, in March under a Michigan law that gives emergency managers nearly unlimited power.

On July 18, Orr made the Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing in federal court. He said Detroit is insolvent, unable to pay off debt that his restructuring team says could reach $20 billion. He has stopped paying on $2.5 billion in bonds, using that money to pump up struggling and underfunded city services. He also asked city creditors and Detroit's two pension funds to accept pennies on the dollar in money owed them.

"My preference would be for the governor to dissolve the emergency manager and let the mayor represent the city in bankruptcy court," said Duggan.

On Tuesday, Duggan joined his wife and two children to vote at a police precinct shortly after polls opened.

"Hopefully, we're up four votes right now," he joked.

Asked about the difficulties he faces not having his name on the ballot, Duggan said he doesn't think "people will have any trouble spelling my name" and that his campaign is "going to be fine."


Associated Press writer Mike Householder contributed to this report.