Jack Lessenberry

Essay/Analysis: Political Commentator

A Detroit native, Jack originally intended to become a historian, but recognized that he wanted to become a journalist during his graduate studies at the University of Michigan.  Since then, he has accumulated nearly forty years of journalism experience in every medium from newspapers to the internet. Jack has worked as a foreign correspondent and executive national editor of The Detroit News, and he has written for many national and regional publications, including Vanity Fair, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe.

Currently, in addition to his work at Michigan Radio, he is head of journalism at Wayne State University and a contributing editor and columnist for The Metro Times, Dome Magazine, The Traverse-City Record Eagle, and The Toledo Blade, where he also serves as ombudsman, and hosts the weekly public affairs program "Deadline Now"  on WGTE-TV in Toledo.

Among his favorite memories are of interviewing Gerald Ford about Watergate in 1995 and winning a national Emmy for a documentary about Jack Kevorkian in 1994.

On a personal note, Jack mostly stopped watching TV -- except for documentaries -- when Mr. Ed was canceled, though he admits to a fondness for the crusty old butler on Downton Abbey.

If you think we’ve got troubles now, flash back eighty-two years ago today. Unemployment in Detroit was more than forty percent – and there was no social safety net.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Congress.
PBS NewsHour / screenshot from YouTube

This week, Jack Lessenberry and Emily Fox discuss Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech, a new push toward financial stability for Detroit’s schools and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s decision to sit out Proposal 1.


Years ago, the Green Party in Germany was torn by a split between two groups nicknamed the “realos” and the “fundis.”

The realos believed you had to compromise to achieve anything in modern, consumer-oriented capitalist society.

Last week I got a check for a thousand dollars from a nonprofit organization for which I do some occasional consulting. However, they had already paid me out of a separate fund.

Wikimedia Commons

This week, Jack Lessenberry and Zoe Clark talk about headlines that marked the end of the beginning for some major Michigan issues. Ballot language for the roads funding bill, school money to fill the budget gap, and GOP officials with criminal records are all stories that look like they’re just getting started. 


Twenty-one years ago, Michigan voters drastically changed the way public education is funded by adopting what we still call Proposal A. That shifted much of the burden of paying for the schools from each local community to the state itself.

And to do that, voters raised the sales tax from 4% to 6%. Now, on May 5th, they’ll be asked to raise the sales tax another penny to fix our disintegrating roads.

When the news came yesterday that Northland Mall, that early suburban icon, would close forever in 30 days, I was with former State Senator Jack Faxon.

Faxon, who once represented the area in the legislature, said, “How ironic. It was the start of the end of Detroit, and now it is the end of Southfield.”

Paul Welday, a deeply conservative former candidate for Congress, called it the most disturbing election in the Michigan Republican Party’s history.

No, he wasn’t talking about President Obama, but about his party’s choice of a man named Darwin Jiles as the party’s new ethnic vice chair. Jiles, who is 29, was arrested a year ago and charged with shooting a man in an Auburn Hills trailer park.

earl53 / Morguefile

This week, Jack and Emily talk about another state considering a right-to-work law, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s budget proposal and a new grant to boost skills training in Michigan.


This hasn’t been a good week for Matty Moroun, when it comes to his battle to hang on to his monopoly over transporting heavy freight across the Detroit River.

Moroun, who will be 88 in June, owns the Ambassador Bridge, which itself is 85-years-old. Twenty-five percent of all trade between Canada and the United States comes across this bridge.

You’d have a hard time finding anyone with deeper Detroit roots than Milton Mack, Wayne County’s Chief Probate Judge. Two of his ancestors were in the canoes with Cadillac when he landed and founded the city on July 24, 1701.

A drawing of where the New International Trade Crossing will be located.
MI DOT

Sometimes bigger is better. Sometimes it’s not. This week, Jack Lessenberry and Zoe Clark discuss what an earlier presidential primary might mean for Michigan, the state’s ever-expanding tax credit bill and a big step toward a new international bridge.


Twenty years ago this fall, Curtis Ivery was appointed chancellor of the oddly named Wayne County Community College District. The place was a mess. One of its campuses was closed, funding and facilities were wretched, and many thought it wouldn’t survive. But as Ivery, who had grown up poor and black in Amarillo, Texas, once told me, “whenever anybody told me I couldn’t do it, I did it.”

It now seems certain that we will have the needed new bridge over the Detroit River.

That’s because Canada is going to pay for it – all of it – up front -- even the U.S. government’s inspection and customs plaza, something that should have been Washington’s responsibility.

That became officially clear with an agreement announced yesterday. 

Canada, which is already picking up all Michigan’s costs, will pay for building our customs plaza too, which will amount to an estimated $250 to $300 million. 

I gave a speech to a large group of retirees a few years ago. Afterwards, a woman came up and asked me if I were single. When I told her no, she said that was too bad, because I had what every woman wanted.

That’s not something I hear every day, and I have to say it was flattering, even though the lady was at least 20 years older than me.

Jim Townsend knows something about business.  He has an MBA from the University of Michigan, has been a brand manager for Ford Motor Company, and ran his own strategic marketing firm.

He also knows something about frustration.

I suppose I must have been one of many who, years ago, went to see Congressman John Conyers in his Detroit office and was greeted by a pleasant receptionist who looked vaguely familiar until I was stunned to realize who she was:

Rosa Parks.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan felt a bit like a Monty-Python sketch this week as the Snyder administration looked on the bright side of a gaping budget hole and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s State of the City oozed optimism. Jack Lessenberry and Zoe Clarke discuss whether things really are as bright as they say or if dark clouds are looming.


I’m so old I can remember when the California presidential primary, which takes place at the beginning of June, often played a major role in choosing both parties’ nominees.

These days, the contests start nearly two years before the election, and tend to be decided by the end of March, but there’s no reason that might not be different next year.

Many years ago, I used to write about the federal budget when it was released in Washington. Ronald Reagan was president then, and Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. The moment the massive document was released, Speaker Tip O’Neill would proclaim it dead on arrival.  And then the negotiating began.

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