But the debate was in doubt until a few days ago when Bing confirmed he would participate. The owner of Detroit-based Bing Group steel manufacturing company had said he would not debate Cockrel until the mayor did as Bing had done—disclose his personal finances.
Cockrel did just that, but only prior to the debate.
The debate was scheduled to go 90 minutes, but ended in just under an hour.
Bing questioned what he called Cockrel's lack of leadership during his time on the Detroit City Council and in the six months he has been mayor. Bing especially cited the several months Cockrel took to release a plan to reduce Detroit's budget deficit that's expected to be between $200 million and $300 million.
Cockrel's plan includes a 10 percent wage cut for city employees and layoffs of a few dozen workers.
``That's a drop in the bucket relative to the deficit we're facing,'' Bing said of the layoffs. ``I think the sense of urgency was never there. It seems to me that all we're doing is slowing the process down so we don't have to get people angry when we go to the polls.''
But Cockrel defended the plan's belated release.
``Part of the reason we took our time was we needed to find out what the magnitude of the problem was and we had to know what we were doing,'' he said.
Bing received 26,327 votes, or 29 percent, in the Feb. 24 special nonpartisan mayoral primary. Cockrel had 24,665 votes, or 27 percent.
The winner of a May 5 runoff will complete the term of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, but would have to advance past the regular August primary and move on to a November runoff to have a chance for a full 4-year term.
When asked if they would run in August if they fail to win May 5, Cockrel quickly said ``yes.''
``I'm not going to give a 'yes' or 'no' answer,'' Bing said. ``I'm going to have to look at that.''
A professional basketball Hall-of-Famer, Bing, 65, was an All-Star guard for the Detroit Pistons.
He has been criticized for moving into a Detroit apartment from his suburban home to run for mayor. Bing said he and his wife decided to move to his stalled luxury riverfront development two years ago.
``We put a deposit down and it's still there,'' Bing said.
When the question of whether city workers should actually live in Detroit was raised, Bing pointed out that ``a lot of'' Cockrel's appointees don't live in the city.
Cockrel retorted: ``Hell, you just moved here.''
The debate began to heat up a bit when Bing was asked about a claim that he had earned a master's in business administration. The statement appeared on a video for the NBA's Retired Players Association.
``I wasn't trying to lie. I misspoke,'' Bing said.
Cockrel used it as an opportunity to attack Bing's credibility.
``I do find it hard to believe that somebody can forget they didn't earn a degree,'' he said.
Both worried about which image Detroit would convey to the world when the men's NCAA Final Four basketball tournament comes to Ford Field early next month.
``I want them to experience some of our cultural institutions, great nightclubs, restaurants,'' Cockrel said. ``I don't want them to see trash or be victimized or experience crime.''
``Our city is atrocious,'' Bing said. ``It's dirty, atrocious, the way our city looks.''
Cockrel, 43, moved up to the mayor's office with Kilpatrick's resignation in September and has been swamped by the fiscal mess left by Kilpatrick, who was forced from office as part of a plea in two criminal cases.
Kilpatrick served 99 days of a four-month jail sentence and was released early last month.
He and ex-Chief of Staff Christine Beatty were charged with lying on the stand during a whistle-blowers' trial. Each denied having a romantic relationship and lied about their roles in the firing of a police official.
Excerpts of sexually explicit text messages first published by the Detroit Free Press in January 2008 contradicted their testimony.
Beatty was released last week after serving 69 days in jail for obstruction of justice.