Jack Lessenberry

Essay/Analysis: Political Commentator

A Detroit native, Jack recognized that he wanted to become a journalist during his graduate studies at the University of Michigan. (He had previously set out to be a historian.) Now, he boasts thirty years of eclectic journalism experience. 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, The Boston Globe, and The Oakland Press.

Currently, he is a professor of journalism at Wayne State University and a contributing editor and columnist for The Metro Times, The Traverse-City Record Eagle, and The Toledo Blade...in addition to his work at Michigan Radio.

Throughout his years of journalism experience, 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 stopped watching TV -- except for documentaries -- when Mr. Ed was canceled.

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Commentary
11:34 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Is a four year cap of welfare benefits costing more than it saves?

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a new law that cuts people off cash welfare benefits forever after four years.

That’s not necessarily four years in a row. That means you are limited to 48 months of benefits, lifetime, even if you have three little kids, say, and have no other means of support.

There are a few temporary and special hardship special exemptions, but the bottom line is that about 40,000 people, three-quarters of whom are children, have been cut off.

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Politics
10:40 am
Tue November 29, 2011

State Senator Glenn Anderson takes on Congressman John Conyers for Congress next year

State Senator Glenn Anderson of Westland likes to think of himself as a workhorse, not a show horse. In other words, as a guy more interested in getting it done than getting press attention.

That’s a little difficult to do these days in the Michigan Senate, where Democrats have less than a third of the seats and can’t accomplish anything, at least not on their own.

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Commentary
10:05 am
Mon November 28, 2011

Doing the Right Thing

Earlier this month, Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards ruled that the privately held Ambassador Bridge company was guilty of contempt of court. This was not surprising.

Nearly two years ago, the judge found that the company and its owner, Matty Moroun, had violated its agreement with the state of Michigan concerning what is known as the Gateway project. This was a joint, two-hundred and thirty million dollar venture between the bridge company and the state to connect the bridge directly to I-75 and I-96 through a series of new roads and ramps.

Both parties agreed on where the roads were to be built. But Moroun violated the agreement. He built a money-generating duty-free shop and put fuel pumps where one of the new roads was to have gone. The Michigan Department of Transportation sued, and in February 2010, the judge issued a ruling.

He ordered the bridge company to tear down the pumps and the duty-free shop, and build the road as agreed. But nothing happened. Eleven months ago, the judge briefly jailed Dan Stamper, president of the bridge company for non-compliance.

He let him out when Stamper promised to get it done. But again, nothing happened. Finally, on November 2, the judge ruled the company guilty of civil contempt.

He set a hearing for Thursday to decide whether to have a court-appointed receiver take control of the project.

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Commentary
11:04 am
Wed November 23, 2011

Changing expectations for students in Detroit

Thirteen years ago, Doug Ross lost Michigan’s Democratic primary for governor -- and that might turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to education in Detroit.

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Politics
7:48 am
Wed November 23, 2011

The Week in State Politics

aflyingpsychofly flickr

Every Wednesday, we speak with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about the state's political happenings during the week. On tap for this morning: Detroit's financial crisis, a $60 million budget hole facing state lawmakers when they return back to the Capitol next week, and the 'failure' of the so-called Congressional super-committee.

Commentary
11:01 am
Tue November 22, 2011

A Media Lynching; Dale Kildee story deserved more scrutiny

Patrick Clawson is one of the more aggressive investigative reporters I know.

The former CNN journalist is now semi-retired, and dabbles in a number of occupations. He is no great worshipper of government, titles or institutions. Last year he broke the news that Governor Granholm had awarded a huge tax break to a convicted embezzler whose business was entirely fiction.

Yet he is now outraged about a story he sees as totally irresponsible, and so am I. Yesterday, media throughout the state began reporting allegations that longtime Flint area congressman Dale Kildee improperly touched a young male second cousin of his more than half a century ago. The 82-year-old congressman, indignantly denied the allegations, and noted that the man making them had a long history of mental illness.

There has never previously been any hint of scandal involving Congressman Kildee, who has a wife, three children and announced months ago that he intended to retire after this term.

These stories bothered me when I saw them, because they contained absolutely no evidence or shred of proof. And because I know that any time anyone is accused of something like this, the accusation sticks to them through life, even if later exposed as totally false. What I didn’t know was that it had been checked out.

Pat Clawson contacted me last night and said that he and another well-known investigative journalist, a man instrumental in exposing Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick became aware of these allegations more than a year ago.

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Commentary
11:41 am
Mon November 21, 2011

Emergency Manager On Hold?

There’s been a lot of speculation lately about the possibility of Detroit getting an emergency manager, something almost everybody concerned says they are against, but fear is likely to happen anyway.

If it does, the manager will have near-autocratic powers, including the right to suspend, rewrite, or tear up contracts. Some think this is a painful necessity, while others think it will be the death of democracy. There’s a possibility, however, which most people aren’t considering, which is that everything may be put on hold.

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Commentary
12:05 pm
Fri November 18, 2011

Detroit: The reality

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing made his long-anticipated speech this week addressing the city’s financial crisis. Even before that people were speculating as to whether the city would end up needing an emergency manager.

That speculation has increased ever since the mayor spoke, but the fact is this. There really isn’t any doubt. The city is not going to be able to succeed in righting its own finances, not under the Bing plan, anyway.

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Commentary
12:18 pm
Thu November 17, 2011

Education for Michigan kids: Their future, and ours

The other day I was on a panel with Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, talking about Michigan’s future.

We’ve done this a couple of times recently. I think some of the people who show up are looking for some sort of liberal-conservative food fight, and go away surprised that we are in as much agreement as we are over a lot of issues. Oh, there is a lot we disagree on.

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Commentary
10:28 am
Wed November 16, 2011

Needed: Protection for The Great Lakes

In Lansing last week, the legislature put the finishing touches on a bill to prevent the various departments of our state government from issuing regulations stronger than federal ones.

That may sound a little odd, so let me explain. Let’s say we wanted to have clean water standards higher than those Washington requires. That ought to make sense. We are surrounded by the Great Lakes, which account for most of the fresh water in the entire Western Hemisphere. Preserving them is essential to our survival.

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Politics
8:00 am
Wed November 16, 2011

The Week in State Politics

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
aflyingpsychofly Flickr

Every Wednesday we take a look at what's happening this week in state politics with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry. On tap for today: Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is scheduled to address the financial crisis in his city this evening, the state House punts on creating a state-run health care exchange, and Democrats in Lansing release a jobs plan.

Commentary
11:08 am
Tue November 15, 2011

A Question of Guns

Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of what was once a nationally famous tragedy; the post office shootings in Royal Oak, Michigan, in which five people died. This was one in a series of similar shootings, which left our language with the memorable term, “going postal.” The Detroit Free Press had an anniversary story about the event, together with the latest installment in their series “Living With Murder.” Well over 3,000 people have been murdered in Detroit in the last decade, almost all of them shot to death.

The newspaper looked at these killings and explored ways to try to stop them.  They wrote about neighborhood groups and citizens who go patrolling with the police.

Mayor Dave Bing said it was a problem of our young people getting “caught up in this violent culture,” and said we needed to stop showing disrespect for each other. I guess he thinks if we all do that and take a few moments to read the gospels, or maybe Martin Niemoller, we’ll be less likely to shoot strangers in the head.

Which may be true, but isn’t really very much of a practical solution. What was almost unbelievable to me, however, was that  there was no mention of doing something about the real problem: Guns. Disrespect doesn‘t kill people. Guns kill people.

Not every murder is committed with a gun. There will always be murders, at least until humans become extinct. But it would be hard to kill 21 people in a restaurant with an axe, and impossible to kill someone with a butcher knife who is three hundred yards away.

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Commentary
1:46 pm
Mon November 14, 2011

A Conversation with Geoffrey Fieger: Politics Today

Virtually everyone knows Geoffrey Fieger, the attorney whose first name often seems to be “flamboyant.”

Though he burst into national prominence 20 years ago as the attorney who kept Jack Kevorkian free, these days, he is mostly in the news for winning huge medical malpractice verdicts.

Last month, he racked up a $144 million judgment in a birth trauma case which is believed to be the largest medical malpractice suit in state history.

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Commentary
11:34 am
Fri November 11, 2011

Two very different anti-bullying bills in the legislature

Governor Snyder has to be hoping that the State Senate goes along with the changes the State House of Representatives made to the anti-bullying legislation now before the legislature.

Otherwise, the Michigan Senate will continue to be the object of nationwide scorn, and the governor may have to veto the bill. If you haven’t been following this, there has been steady pressure building for years for Lansing to pass an anti-bullying bill.

There have been a rash of stories about kids who were so tormented in school they took their own lives.

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Commentary
11:33 am
Thu November 10, 2011

Paul Scott Recall: The Aftermath

There’s an old saying I’m sure we’ve all heard: Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.  I think that’s where we are now, two days after State Representative Paul Scott was recalled.

Well, his opponents did get him out of office, assuming the narrow margin stands up when they officially certify the vote. So, what does that mean, and what did his enemies really accomplish?

The answer seems to be, not much. In fact, by spending heavily in their efforts to get Scott recalled, the Michigan Education Association may have made things worse for themselves.

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Commentary
11:33 am
Wed November 9, 2011

Yesterday's Election Results

People are willing to pay more taxes, if they understand what the taxes are for and want the services they will provide.

That, more than anything else, seems to be the message Michigan voters sent in yesterday’s off-off year election.

Turnout wasn’t great, but the preliminary numbers I’ve seen hint it may have been slightly higher than expected. And those voters who showed up mostly seemed to be civic-minded.

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Politics
12:45 pm
Tue November 8, 2011

Low voter turnout in off-year elections

Cle0patra Flickr

Local elections are underway across the state today. Among other votes in Michigan, two mayors of large cities will be elected, Detroiters will vote on changes to their city charter, and a state representative is up for recall. But, despite the fact that there are important issues on today's ballots, very few voters will actually make it to the polls.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White spoke with Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio's Political Analyst, about why voter turnout is historically low in local elections that are held in so-called "off-years."

Commentary
10:21 am
Tue November 8, 2011

Election Day

My guess is that if you are listening to this on the radio, you haven’t bothered to vote today. That’s a guess, but an educated one. Based on recent history, fewer than one-fifth of those eligible will bother to vote today - and that is too bad for a whole lot of reasons.

Whatever your politics, whether left or right or somewhere in the middle, we ought to be able to agree on this much: Politicians often behave badly when they think voters aren’t paying attention. If you’ve been following Wayne County, you may know what I mean.

How could a county give large “severance payments“ to workers going from one government job to another? Simple. Somebody clearly thought nobody would notice.

Thanks to some diligent reporters, we finally did.

But not very many of us have taken notice of this year’s election - even though polls show that very few of us are satisfied with the way things are going. That’s partly because this is what’s called an off-off year election, one held in an odd-numbered year.

This election isn’t seen as very sexy. There’s no vote for president, or governor, or congress. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. As old Tip O’Neill used to say, “All Politics is Local.”

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Commentary
1:40 pm
Mon November 7, 2011

Ambassador Bridge owners "paper over all the truth with money"

Last week I received an indignant angry e-mail from a Republican woman I’ve known for many years, someone who has worked for Republican officeholders and in many campaigns.

She wrote after getting a flyer in the mail from an outfit called “Americans for Prosperity,” which has been acting as a front for the Ambassador Bridge owners, the family of Manuel “Matty” Moroun.

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Commentary
10:56 am
Fri November 4, 2011

State of Detroit: Will the city need an emergency manager?

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing made headlines and provoked cries of outrage yesterday with his pronouncement that the city might have to seek an emergency manager -- and, furthermore, that he might be willing to accept the job. Which is to say, that he wants it.

That outraged City Council president Charles Pugh, who posted this on Facebook, using many capital letters:

“The city of Detroit DOES NOT need an emergency manager. I don’t care WHAT Dave Bing says.”

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