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DETROIT — Sheriff Benny Napoleon won a spot Tuesday on the November ballot for mayor of Detroit, but the name of his opponent remained unconfirmed as officials tallied write-in votes late into the morning in a primary in this blighted city seeking bankruptcy protection.

Napoleon was the top vote-getter among 14 candidates on the ballot for a job that is largely considered toothless in a city now under state control. He faced a strong challenge from Mike Duggan, the former chief executive of Detroit Medical Center, who was forced to mount a write-in campaign.

An early front-runner who moved from a nearby suburb to seek office, Duggan was found ineligible to appear on the ballot after courts said he had submitted election petitions two weeks before he had met the residency requirement.


Late Tuesday, with Napoleon far ahead of the other certified candidates when the regular ballots for the nonpartisan primary were tallied, Duggan’s supporters waited for the counting of the write-in votes to be completed. With the total number of write-ins nearly equal to those cast for the regular ballot, the numbers pointed to Duggan moving on to November.

A November election between Duggan, who is white, and Napoleon, who is black, would present the possibility that Detroit, a city where more than 80 percent of residents are African-American, could elect its first white mayor in four decades. The race would pit Napoleon’s hometown identity and law enforcement experience against Duggan’s business acumen, which he says will persuade state officials to return governance to the city sooner.

Napoleon rallied supporters Tuesday night: “If anyone thinks for any millisecond that we are going to give up this city without a struggle, that we are going to give up this city without a fight, that we’re going to give up this city without every single ounce of energy and blood we have in us, they are in for a very rude awakening.”


The contest comes at a time of political tumult in City Hall, which for months has been under the control of Kevyn Orr, a Washington bankruptcy lawyer appointed as emergency manager by Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican. While Mayor Dave Bing and members of the City Council still get paychecks, the move stripped them of most authority, raising questions about how much influence their successors would be able to wield.