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
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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Commentary
10:56 am
Thu November 3, 2011

The Bullying Wars: What's Up With the Anti-Bullying Bill?

Michigan is one of only a handful of states without a specific law making school bullying a crime. The governor wants an anti-bullying law. Various other groups do too.

This is, make no mistake, a serious issue. According to the Senate Fiscal agency, bullying has accounted for at least ten suicides in the last ten years, plus more that were likely unreported.

So yesterday, the state senate passed such a law.

But nobody, absolutely nobody, is celebrating.

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Commentary
11:15 am
Wed November 2, 2011

A New Detroit River Bridge: The Situation in Delray

For a brief moment, a couple weeks ago, it looked like things might finally be moving on the governor’s plan to build a new Detroit River bridge a plan heavily supported by business.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville seemed to have  enough votes to move the bridge bills out of the economic development committee and on to the full senate.

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Politics
7:54 am
Wed November 2, 2011

The Week in State Politics

State Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Ifmuth Flickr

Every Wednesday we speak with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on in state politics. This morning, we take a look at whether improved rail service can lead to a healthier state economy, what to watch for in next Tuesday's election, and the latest happenings in Pontiac, where that city's emergency manager has fired some department heads.

We are having a technical problem with the audio link above. Please use the link below:

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commentary
11:12 am
Tue November 1, 2011

Cronyism and Wayne County

There’s a wonderful scene in Oliver Stone’s excellent movie Nixon, where the actors playing the president’s two heavies, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, are watching their boss publicly fire an aide as the Watergate scandal begins to unravel.

The cadaverous James Woods, who plays Bob Haldeman, turns to his sidekick. “And John, you do know we‘re next, right?” he says.

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Politics
11:43 am
Mon October 31, 2011

African-American Congressmen in Michigan

For most of our history, Michigan had no African Americans representing the state in Congress. That changed in nineteen fifty- four, when a young funeral director named Charles Diggs beat an incumbent white congressman, which was a sensation at the time.

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Commentary
4:32 pm
Fri October 28, 2011

Snyder's Infrastructure Plan: Paved with Good Intentions

Governor Snyder put forth a bold new message on infrastructure a couple days ago. What he said immediately won praise from columnists and editorial pages across the state.

As a matter of fact, the governor’s plan is being enthusiastically supported by nearly everybody who understands how desperate a shape Michigan’s roads and bridges are in.

I looked at the details of the governor’s proposal when it was unveiled, but deliberately decided to refrain from saying anything about it until it was clear what the reaction would be.

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Commentary
11:49 am
Thu October 27, 2011

Remembering Howard Wolpe

Howard Wolpe died Tuesday night, and even though he wasn’t terribly old, chances are you don’t remember him. That is, unless you follow politics closely, or grew up in Kalamazoo.

He was a good and decent man who ran one of the worst campaigns for governor I can ever remember, and who, oddly enough, was the only man ever to beat Debbie Stabenow.

And his doing so was the best thing possible for her career, which proves how crazy politics can be.

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Commentary
11:50 am
Wed October 26, 2011

John Conyers: Running for Congress

When you talk to State Senator Bert Johnson about running for Congress next year, the first thing he’ll tell you is that “this is not about John Conyers,” the man he‘s taking on in the Democratic primary next August.  That‘s true, in a sense.

The newly configured Thirteenth Congressional District is slightly more than half Detroit; the rest is mainly blue-collar Wayne County suburbs. Conyers, who has been in Congress since nineteen sixty-five, doesn‘t live in the district, not yet, anyway.

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commentary
11:08 am
Tue October 25, 2011

New Detroit Bridge: Legislative Breakdown

There now seems to be an increasing likelihood that Governor Snyder may bypass the legislature and find another way to build a new bridge across the Detroit River. Late last week, a spokesman for the Ambassador Bridge Company said that would be outrageous.

He said it would be a perversion of the process to build a new bridge after the legislature said no. If that were the case, he might have a point. But that’s not at all what happened.

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Politics
11:16 am
Mon October 24, 2011

Sex Offender Registry: First, Do No Harm

For months, I’ve been corresponding with a lady named Virginia Hernandez, whose twenty-three year old son Elio is on Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry. He was accused of accosting a minor for immoral purposes, and pled guilty on the advice of his court-appointed counsel. His mom believes he is innocent, and was pressured into a plea. She says his attorney told him that he was poor, uneducated, and black, and a jury would never believe him.

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Auto/Economy
9:53 am
Fri October 21, 2011

Keeping An Eye On Chrysler

There was a fair amount of anxiety in automotive circles over the new contracts hammered out between the United Auto Workers union and Ford and General Motors. GM remains the largest Detroit automaker, and this was the first post-bankruptcy contract.

The pact didn’t give workers as much as some had hoped for, and it did nothing to eliminate the new two-tier wage system that many old-time union members especially hate.

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Commentary
10:38 am
Thu October 20, 2011

A New Detroit River Bridge: Bump in the Bridge Bills

So what happened yesterday?

For months, everybody interested in the possibility of a new bridge over the Detroit River had waited for the State Senate Economic Development Committee to take a vote.

Not that this would settle much of anything -- except to decide whether to let the full senate decide whether to vote. Most of the committee members have taken political contributions from the owner of the ancient Ambassador Bridge, Matty Moroun.

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