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.

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This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Zoe Clark discuss stories which seem new but are actually just more of the same. Dave Agema, President Obama and the 114th Congress are all giving Michigan a sense of Déjà vu.


Detroit’s economic decline and population flight to the suburbs was a long and gradual process. But there was an iconic event that serves as a precise marker of when it started.

That would be March 1954, when the Lodge Freeway was completed and Northland, then the world’s largest open-air shopping center, opened at the freeway’s end, across the border in Southfield.

  

Six years ago, when President Obama first took office, the United States was in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Unemployment was heading towards nine percent.

Barack Obama walked into the Oval Office to find the previous administration had left a budget with a projected deficit of $1.2 trillion. He knew things would get worse.

I will be sixty-three years old in three months, and this was the first morning since I was three that I woke up and John Dingell wasn’t a member of Congress.

Michigan's next Senator Gary Peters.
U.S. Representative Gary Peters

This week in Michigan Politics, Jack and Emily discuss President Barack Obama's Detroit trip as well as the state's outgoing and incoming US Congress members.


Maternity leave

Jan 6, 2015

I teach at Wayne State University, which, more than any other school in our state, offers working people a chance at a first-class education. Last year, I had a woman enroll in two of my classes who was obviously heavily pregnant.

Every so often, the justice system gets it wrong. Take David Gavitt of Ionia. He spent twenty-six years in prison after being convicted of setting a fire that burned down his home and killing his wife and daughters.

Universty of Michigan QB Devin Gardner sacked by Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun during the 2013 MSU-UM football game.
User: Michigan State Spartans / facebook

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss Governor Rick Snyder’s air gun legislation veto, a new criminal justice commission, and legislation that forbids Michigan public university athletes from unionizing.


Well, we’ve come to the end of the year, and I do have a little good news: There are already three more minutes of daylight than on the year’s shortest day. There’s a long winter ahead, but at least that’s something. And while Detroit certainly faces a lot of difficult challenges, the year ends with the city in better shape than when it started.

Michigan Legislature
Matthileo / Flickr

This Week in Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss how 2015 is shaping up for Michigan. The Legislature is new, but many of the state’s problems are the same.


Patricia Hill Burnett was a folk hero of sorts in a most unlikely way. Wealthy, glamorous and Republican to the core, she was nevertheless a feminist who was a co-founder of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for Women back in 1969.

She became a legend in Detroit, where she might hold court one day at the fashionable Midtown Café, and the next day lead a sit-in at the Detroit Athletic Club, which then did not allow women.

Well, it’s Christmas Eve, the official start of a holiday that long ago became as much a secular as a religious one. Tonight and tomorrow, we mark an occasion in which Americans of nearly all faiths  celebrate our strenuous attempts to please the gods of retail sales.

Early indications are that we’ve done fairly well.

user memories_by_mike / Flickr

This week, Jack Lessenberry and Emily Fox discuss some of 2014's top political stories. Funding for road repairs, Detroit's bankruptcy case and gay marriage all made headlines in Michigan this year.


In some ways it was easier to be a journalist back in the old pre-cyber days. Yes, the technology was harder to manipulate and information was harder to get. Yes, some of us actually worked in a world without Google.

When President Obama announced last week that we would restore diplomatic ties with Cuba, it wasn’t that big a story in Michigan. For one thing, we were still waiting to see what our lame-duck legislature would do about the roads. And there aren’t many Cuban-Americans here.

user Tqycolumbia / Wikimedia Commons

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss a long-awaited plan to fix Michigan’s roads, job cuts to one of the state’s largest agencies, and some holiday cheer from Rep. John Dingell.

Roads deal

After weeks of hemming and hawing over how to fix the state’s roads, Michigan lawmakers have OK'd plans for a sales tax hike.

There’s a great deal of celebrating over the fact that the Legislature reached a last-minute deal to fix the roads. Gov. Rick Snyder and the establishment Republicans are happy.

There’s a reason college professors historically were given tenure. It was so they couldn’t be fired for politically unpopular views.

Ron Kagan has been head of the Detroit Zoo for more than 20 tumultuous years. During that time, he fought off an effort by Detroit City Council to close the zoo and helped win its independence years before the city’s bankruptcy gave the art institute its own near-death experience.

He’s also led a transformation of the zoo from a somewhat tired park to a leader in worldwide conservation efforts and a much more exciting place.

The zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life is the nation’s largest polar bear exhibit; next year, a new penguin conservation center and wolf habitat will open. Attendance has swollen so much that Kagan is now facing the unwelcome chore of planning a new parking structure.

user Kcdtsg / wikimedia commons

This week, Jack Lessenberry and Emily Fox discuss the final days of lame duck, including the hold up on a plan to fix the roads, a pair of Senate-approved abortion coercion bills, and a bill that would impact online purchases made in Michigan.


Four years ago, Michigan voters were asked if they wanted to summon a convention to write a new state constitution.

We said no, by a two-to-one margin. Nobody collected signatures to put that on the ballot, by the way. Under the current constitution, we’re automatically asked every 16 years if we want a convention to write a new one.

We’ll be asked again in 12 years.

But I now think the voters made a mistake in 2010. We may well need a new constitution, because there’s increasing evidence the old one, written in the early 1960s, no longer works.

Nearly a year ago, as car after car was damaged or destroyed by potholes, State Sen. Majority Leader Randy Richardville went to see his constituents in Monroe, a town between Detroit and Toledo.

Unions don’t represent as many workers as they used to, and we are increasingly ignorant of labor history, though it includes some of the most fascinating episodes in Michigan’s glorious past.

Detroiters woke up this morning in a city run by an exuberant, can-do mayor, in a city finally out of bankruptcy and with a spirit of optimism that hasn’t been seen for at least half a century.

It should already be perfectly clear why they call what the Legislature is doing now the “lame-duck session.” Much of what they are doing has been pretty lame.

Courtesy photo / Holland BPW

This week, Jack Lessenberry and Emily Fox discuss Detroit’s pending bankruptcy exit, confusion over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and a Senate bill that would count the burning of tires, used oil and other waste products as renewable energy.


Last night I talked to a woman in her 40s who grew up in a rural town in the northern Lower Peninsula and then lived for a couple decades in Boston and New York, before coming to Detroit for a job.

I had lunch the other day with Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who in a few weeks will be out of office for the first time in fourteen years. The last four years have had to be frustrating for her.

user futureatlas.com / Flickr

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss a bill aimed at protecting religious freedom, another that would cut off welfare payments to recipients who fail drug tests, and whether Michigan’s low gas prices will stick around.


Last night I spoke to about a hundred thoughtful citizens, mostly of retirement age, at a forum sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women. They were mostly great fans of Michigan Radio.

Several asked why I hadn’t said anything about the deaths of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, or Eric Garner,

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