Detroit Election Could Mean Overhaul for City

TOMORROW, Detroit could take a turn toward a political overhaul. City voters will choose a new mayor in an election that could play a big part in pulling the city out of economic decay and racial antagonism.

The race is between two lawyers who offer firsthand knowledge of how to overcome destitution: Dennis Archer, a former state Supreme Court justice, and Sharon McPhail, a county prosecutor. Both had a disadvantaged past, and both propose fundamental change in city government. They promise to cut crime and reverse decline in poor neighborhoods.

Like 76 percent of residents, Mr. Archer and Ms. McPhail are black. Archer views cooperation with estranged, mostly white suburbs as vital to his economic revitalization plan. He has reinforced his Detroit power base with corporate and civic support from suburbs and amassed a political war chest of more than $1.6 million, several times larger than his rival's. He lured many corporate supporters from Mayor Coleman Young before he said he would not seek another term. Archer says he would reorganize the police department and add 380 officers.

McPhail also wants to improve relations with the suburbs. But she has echoed race-conscious comments of Mr. Young - who endorses her - and accused Archer of toadying to powerful whites in outlying communities.

Her comments appeal to many Detroit natives who appear very poor compared with residents outside city limits. She wants to attract business investment by abolishing the corporate income tax and lowering other taxes. She would turn over abandoned buildings to entrepreneurs willing to fix them up. And says she would put 2,000 more police on streets.

Regardless who wins, the new mayor will bring big change by replacing Young, a former union organizer and state senator. He was criticized for not halting a decline in public safety, health, education, and economic welfare. He oversees a landscape dominated by dilapidated houses, trash-strewn lots, and vacant, ramshackle buildings.

Young has blamed racism and the ``hostile suburbs'' for the problems of Detroit, the country's eighth largest city. He has said difficulties in the auto industry - the keystone of the city's economy - and the flight of white residents to suburbs are the main reasons for city travails.

* James L. Tyson reports from Detroit.

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