On this season of Working, we left the East Coast behind and flew to Detroit. We’re speaking with eight people who are drawing on the city’s complex history as they work to create its future.
In her office Alexis Wiley, the chief of staff to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, keeps a board covered with ideas and concerns. “If I need to be thinking about something, I need to see it up here,” she tells us in this episode of Working, which you can listen to via the player above.
That’s important because her responsibilities are numerous and her commitments unending. “Being chief of staff is a job where you often go from issue to issue … while at the same time trying to keep an eye on the other ongoing initiatives that we’re trying to move forward,” she says.
Wiley came into the role in what she describes as “a nontraditional way.” She was a reporter on a local TV channel when the mayor asked her to come on board as a spokeswoman. A few months later, he promoted her to her current role as chief of staff, explaining that her job would involve “making sure that our external statements fit our internal actions.” Elaborating on that, she explains, “When the mayor says that he wants to make something happen within the city, it’s my job to make sure … that all the pieces that are necessary are connecting.”
Wiley spends a great deal of her time thinking about schedules—her own, of course, but also the mayor’s. “The one thing you can’t get back is time,” she says. She’s acutely aware of that in part because her own time, as she puts it, is not entirely hers. At any given time, her personal phone is likely “blowing up” with updates on multiple issues from multiple people—both staffers and Detroit residents. That means she’s never able to fully log off until she goes to bed for the night.
“I don’t know what I would do without my phone,” Wiley says. “It keeps me connected to every single thing.”
“I feel like I’m responsible for everything around me,” she tells us in response to a question about the way her sense of Detroit has changed since she took the job. “I remember when I first got into this, I’d be driving down the street and see a light that’s out. And I’m like, Gosh, that light’s out, somebody’s gotta fix that. And then I’m like, Wait, wait. That somebody’s me! I’m the one who has to make the call for that.”
Wiley goes deeper into that topic, and others, in this episode. Then in a Slate Plus extra, Wiley talks about introducing and advocating for Detroit’s Project Green Light, an effort to install police video cameras at gas stations. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at slate.com/workingplus.