Michigan Watch

Michigan Watch is Michigan Radio’s investigative/accountability reporting unit. Headed by veteran reporter Lester Graham, Michigan Watch provides in-depth reports on topics of importance that may require a longer and more involved examination. These include the workings of state government, education, the environment, and jobs and the economy. Among the specific topics covered by Michigan Watch have been the influence of money and politics in Michigan elections, changes to the state’s mandatory no-fault insurance system, following Michigan families that have been removed from welfare, and separating truth from fiction in election advertising.

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Politics & Government
5:00 am
Mon July 28, 2014

Long-term Democrat challenged in Michigan's 13th Congressional primary race

Democratic Congressman John Conyers Jr. talks with Michigan Radio's Lester Graham. Conyers is facing a challenge in the 13th District primary.

Primary elections in Michigan will be held on August 5. Voters in parts of Detroit and Wayne County will decide between two Democratic candidates in the 13th Congressional District. The incumbent is John Conyers Jr. The challenger is The Rev. Horace Sheffield III.

Before we start talking about 2014, let me take you back 50 years:

“In your heart, you know he’s right. Vote for Barry Goldwater.”

“Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

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Politics & Government
11:02 am
Sat July 19, 2014

Civil rights groups want to meet with Detroit officials about water crisis

Credit from the Congressman's Facebook page

Civil rights groups are asking to meet with Detroit officials about a controversial water shut-off campaign.

The ACLU and the NAACP want to meet with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to find a “fair, humane, and meaningful review process,” which would include adequate notice and a hearing to determine whether individual water customers can’t or won’t pay their bills.

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Economy
9:01 am
Mon July 14, 2014

Mayor to announce "Detroit Homecoming"

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit is going to hold a little get-together to persuade former residents to come back home.

Mayor Mike Duggan wants former Detroiters to visit the city for a homecoming. The idea is to attract people who wrote off their relationship with the city. The "Detroit Homecoming" is aimed to bring them back for a visit, a little flirtation. After all, Detroit should be getting through its messy bankruptcy by then. It will be a little brighter, with thousands of  new LED streetlights. The parks are being mowed.

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Investigative
4:40 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Detroit sells $1 million worth of vacant homes

One of the many houses put up for auction by the Detroit Land Bank.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The city of Detroit says it’s sold $1 million dollars worth of vacant homes that will be fixed up and occupied. Nearly 70 auctioned properties have been sold.

These are purchase commitments from bidders, not cash in hand, but reaching the million-dollar mark gives Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Land Bank some bragging rights.

Of the 16,000 properties the city owns, 2,000 are salvageable. At an open house of properties to be auctioned last month, Mayor Duggan said the city would start putting up two houses a day for auction.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Thu June 26, 2014

You won't believe how much less Detroit will spend on streetlights

Dave Martin wiring one of the thousands of LED streetlights being installed in Detroit neighborhoods.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week the Detroit Journalism Cooperative is looking at how the city of Detroit is functioning under bankruptcy. Until recently, almost half the streetlights of Detroit were dark. Thousands of new streetlights are replacing the old broken ones.

I caught up with one of several crews installing streetlights in neighborhoods around Detroit. James England is the foreman.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue June 24, 2014

Detroit Mayor Duggan's blight elimination effort

Thirty percent of the structures in Detroit are considered blight.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week Michigan Radio and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative are looking at how the city is functioning under bankruptcy. One of the biggest problems facing Detroit is the huge number of abandoned houses, buildings, and vacant lots. Here's a look at what’s changed in the six months since Mayor Mike Duggan took office.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon June 23, 2014

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan not like past mayors

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

This week Michigan Radio and our media partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative are looking at how the city is functioning under bankruptcy and the leadership of Mayor Mike Duggan.

At the beginning of the year, Mayor Duggan said to watch what happens in six months. We’ll review the changes throughout this week, but we thought we’d start with a look at the mayor himself.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon May 19, 2014

City bankruptcy doesn't mean Detroit business at a dead stop

The Detroit City Distillery will open at Eastern Market in late June or early July. The business indicates it will use Michigan grain in its whiskey, gin, and vodka. It will use produce from the farmers market.
Credit Tammy Coxen

Listen to the radio version.

The City of Detroit might be going through bankruptcy, but the commerce of Detroit is growing in some areas. A new business that will open this summer is the latest in a fast-growing trend.

Tucked away in the Eastern Market on Riopelle Street is a nondescript building. Go through the squeaky, jail-like door and you'll see one of Michigan’s newest whiskey, gin, and vodka distillers, the Detroit City Distillery.

Right now, though, it’s mostly a dusty construction site. There are no whiskey barrels here- yet. They’re stored at a licensed facility. There’s no copper pot still- yet. It’s being manufactured in Germany right now.

But they do have a classic wooden bar. Michael Forsyth and his partners found it in a vacant storefront in downtown Detroit and bought it.

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Investigative
8:30 pm
Sun May 18, 2014

Detroit to increase auctions and demolition of houses

Workers removed plywood from boarded up houses in the Osborn neighborhood Sunday to allow potential buyers to see what they could bid on.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Workers removed some of the plywood covering up a house in the Osborn neighborhood on Sunday to allow potential buyers to check out one of the houses the city will put up for auction.

Saturday, people visited available houses in the Boston-Edison neighborhood.

Detroit owns 16,000 properties. Some of them are houses in good enough condition to sell.

Bidding starts at $1,000, but the buyers have to bring the property up to code and either live in it or rent it to someone.

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Health
7:00 am
Fri May 16, 2014

Detroit campaign aims to reduce rate of preterm births

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan joined officials from Wayne State University and the city's leading health systems to announce a new program to help pregnant women in the city get prenatal care.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit officials are launching a new effort to reduce the rate of preterm births in the city. The rate of premature births in Detroit is 18%, among the highest in the world.

The city, Wayne State University and Detroit’s leading health systems are working together on the effort called Make Your Date.

Mayor Mike Duggan outlined how the program simplifies the way pregnant women can find prenatal care.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Wed May 14, 2014

Poll: Snyder's approval ratings; myths about Detroit

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Impressions of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder are more negative than positive among voters, even when you factor out the heavily Democratic city of Detroit, according to a poll released yesterday.

This poll was commissioned by Michigan Radio and its partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

The poll is unique because it does not include voters from the city of Detroit.

Among the data was a question asking how voters would rate the job Rick Snyder has done as Michigan’s governor. Since Snyder is a Republican and voters in Detroit are overwhelmingly Democratic, you might expect Snyder to do really well outside the city. But 52% of voters rated Gov. Snyder as having done a

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Investigative
5:00 am
Tue May 13, 2014

New poll: Save Detroit art and retirees' pensions

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Listen to the entire story.

A new poll shows Michigan voters outside of Detroit approve using state money to support the so-called “Grand Bargain” to bolster City of Detroit retirees’ pensions and protect the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection.

The poll was commissioned by Michigan Radio and its partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

(See DJC partner Bridge Magazine's coverage of the poll here.)

It found almost half of voters outside the city of Detroit support the state government contributing $350 million to help solve some of the sticky issues of the bankruptcy. Forty-nine percent favor the contribution, 34 percent oppose it.

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Investigative
3:34 pm
Wed April 23, 2014

Lead poisoning is still damaging Michigan kids

Decades of lead paint can deteriorate, leaving lead dust or paint chips on the floor. Lead tastes sweet to children.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There‘s one kind of pollution that researchers believe robs kids of their future like no other.

Scientists have found evidence it diminishes their intelligence, causes behavioral problems, even increases the likelihood they’ll end up in prison.

This toxin’s damage is known.

We even know how to protect children from being exposed to it.

Yet tens of thousands of Michigan children are poisoned by lead every day.

Jessica Jeffries showed me the work that was done on her upper-floor apartment of a two-story house in Detroit.

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Investigative
8:55 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

Detroit's emergency manager on bankruptcy developments

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr spoke at the University of Michigan and took questions on the one-year anniversary of his appointment to guide the city through bankruptcy.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

On the one-year anniversary of his appointment, Detroit’s emergency manager spoke about the latest developments in the city's bankruptcy in a speech at the University of Michigan.

One thing in the works is getting a $120 million loan from Barclays of London. A state board approved the loan today. The Detroit City Council also approved the deal, despite concerns that the money might be used to pay big-money bankruptcy consultants. But, emergency manager Kevyn Orr says, ‘not so.’

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon March 10, 2014

Being broke makes Detroit get creative

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit's municipal bankruptcy has made the world aware of what Michigan already knew. Detroit is broke. No matter how it turns out, bankruptcy is not going to change things very quickly. Detroit will still be broke. That’s going to force the city to get creative.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: the state of Michigan is not going to bail out Detroit.

And the state of Michigan is not going fully restore revenue sharing from the sales tax with cities such as Detroit.

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Arts & Culture
11:59 am
Mon March 3, 2014

SLIDESHOW: A day at Detroit's Eastern Market

Although the crowds are smaller, even in the middle of winter families from all over the Detroit region visit the Eastern Market.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

For many families, Saturdays are about visiting Eastern Market in Detroit.

A public-private partnership took over the operation of the market from the City of Detroit in 2006.  Since then, buildings have been renovated and Eastern Market's popularity has grown.

I visited the market this past weekend and took a few photos. You can click through them above.

Investigative
7:32 pm
Sat March 1, 2014

2,500 apply for city of Detroit jobs

On Friday 1400 people applied for the 350 jobs the City of Detroit is offering. On Saturday another 1100 submitted applications.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

About 2,500 people showed up to apply for new city of Detroit jobs during a two-day job fair at Cobo Hall on Friday and Saturday.

On average, more than seven people applied for each job available.

Michael Hall is Detroit’s Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations.

“You know, we had 350 jobs that we listed. Anything from a GED to a CPA we’re looking for. So, we’ve had great candidates come through and some of those people will be called back for future interviews,” Hall said.

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Politics & Government
11:37 am
Fri February 28, 2014

A message from the Detroit Policy Conference: Entire state has a stake in Detroit's future

Detroit Free Press reporter John Gallagher was one of the speakers at the Detroit Regional Chamber's policy conference.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

On Thursday, the Detroit Regional Chamber held a one-day policy conference focused on Detroit after bankruptcy. The theme seemed to be optimism tempered by realism.

With Detroit’s bankruptcy on an apparent fast-track, a new mayor and city council, and progress in several key areas, there was an air of optimism.

But the Detroit Chamber’s policy conference looked also looked at obstacles.

Thomas Sugrue is a Detroit native and professor of History and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a keynote speaker.

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Investigative
3:05 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

If Arizona's bill to discriminate surprises you, you won't believe what's legal in Michigan

Michigan's laws make discrimination against LGBT legal.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

If the pollsters are right, here’s something you probably don’t know:

It’s perfectly legal to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

A Gallup poll reported nearly nine out of ten people think LGBT people are already protected.

They are not.

Actually, Arizona and Michigan are not that different right now.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Detroit's infrastructure crumbling while city has trouble collecting cash

Compuware World Headquarters at Campus Martius is a gleaming example of the Detroit's downtown revival. It depends on the deteriorating infrastructure of the city.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The radio version of this story.

The plan to guide Detroit out of bankruptcy includes up to $150 million a year for ten years to repair neglected infrastructure.  The city could go a long way in paying for that if it can find a way to collect money already owed to it.

The Compuware World Headquarters building at Campus Martius is a gleaming example of a downtown revival.

But last week, just down the block, the façade of revival was peeled back for a moment. An old water pipe broke.

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