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.

Pages

Opinion
11:15 am
Thu April 24, 2014

How today's political campaigns try to keep you from going to the polls

Here’s something that has changed in politics in this country, and I think it is a very disturbing trend. Back in ancient times, like say the 1980s, campaigning was largely about persuading voters.

We took it for granted that modern voters made their minds up, as the saying went, “based on the man, not the party.”

Everybody knew that there were diehard Democrats and rock-ribbed Republicans who would support their party’s candidates, no matter what, but they were seen as old-fashioned dinosaurs.

Well, things have changed. Dinosaurs are back.

The parties are more sharply divided than they’ve been in my lifetime. Swing voters are an endangered species.

Read more
Opinion
10:46 am
Wed April 23, 2014

One way U of M could use racial preferences in admissions

As pretty much everyone knows by now, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on the use of affirmative action in college admissions. This was no real surprise.

Today, lots of people are praising or attacking this decision. But it is clear to me that many of them haven’t read it, or even read much about it. And the high court’s ruling raises two very interesting questions on subjects other than affirmative action.

First of all, it is important to understand that the court did not say affirmative action couldn’t be used in college admissions. Not at all.

In fact, in his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said “the consideration of race in admissions is permissible.” But Michigan voters eight years ago chose to ban the use of race in college admissions. Justice Kennedy wrote that the court found they were within their rights to “choose to prohibit the consideration of racial preferences in governmental decisions, in particular with respect to school admissions.”

However, Kennedy also said that voters could decide that “race-based preferences could be adopted.”  

Read more
Politics & Government
9:06 am
Wed April 23, 2014

The week in Michigan politics: Affirmative action and GM

Credit US Supreme Court

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss the U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, and the latest reactions by GM after the fallout from recalls for ignition switch problems.

Week in Michigan Politics interview for 4/23/14

Read more
Opinion
11:55 am
Tue April 22, 2014

Sound and fury over Detroit teen's U of M rejection misses the real point

Brooke Kimbrough is easy to pick on – and a lot of the establishment, including the media, is happily doing so. Brooke is a frustrated high school senior who didn’t get accepted into the school of her choice – the University of Michigan. She apparently always took it for granted that she would get in.

The fact that she didn’t actually means she is in the majority. Two-thirds of high school seniors applying to U of M are rejected.

Kimbrough, who goes to one of the best charter schools in Detroit, is an impressive student. She’s a member of the debate team, and a youth leadership program.

Her grade point average is a respectable 3.5. But these days the average Michigan freshman’s average is 3.8. Brooke’s ACT scores are even further behind most successful applicants. So she was, sadly, rejected – though the university encouraged her to do well elsewhere and apply for admittance as a sophomore.

But Brooke isn’t willing to take no for an answer – and has decided to make this all about race. Seventeen-year-olds are often all about exaggerated rhetoric, and she is a prize-winning debater.

Read more
Opinion
11:57 am
Mon April 21, 2014

Somebody has to run for Congress; why not you?

How would you like to serve in Congress? Oh, I know it is a lot of pressure. Still, you get paid a decent salary – $174,000 a year. That may be less than it sounds. Usually, you have to live in two places – Washington, D.C., and the district you claim to represent.

However, there are a lot of perks, like free mailing privileges, a staff and usually an entourage. While there is a fair amount of mind-numbingly dull committee work, and addressing Kiwanis Club meetings in Central Downtown Nowheresville, you do get to cast votes on important legislation affecting the nation.

There is a catch, however. You have to reapply for your job every two years, and it can be a nasty process, especially in a competitive district. First, opponents from your own party say nasty things about you, and you have to spend a lot of money saying things about them, or at least telling the voters how great you are.

Read more
Politics & Government
9:07 am
Sat April 19, 2014

The week in review

Credit Jarrad Henderson / Detroit Free Press

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss the latest with the Detroit bankruptcy, road funding and the state's foreclosure rate.

Read more
Opinion
11:28 am
Fri April 18, 2014

The future of Detroit's second bridge now hangs on the Obama administration

So whatever happened to the New International Trade Crossing Bridge?

For years, an epic battle raged between those who knew we needed a new bridge across the Detroit River, and Matty Moroun, the 86-year-old man who owned the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge, the only game in town.

Moroun held up a new bridge for years, mostly by buying off Michigan legislators with bribes thinly described as campaign contributions, but that ended when Rick Snyder became governor.

Snyder found a way to bypass the lawmakers and conclude an agreement with Canada. That was almost two years ago, however, and ground has yet to be broken.

So what’s happening?

This time the culprit is not Matty Moroun, but, bizarrely, Barack Obama.

President Obama has been supportive of a new bridge. There was no difficulty gaining a presidential permit to build it. Money was not a problem, because our friends the Canadians are paying for almost all of it. They are advancing Michigan’s share of more than half a billion dollars, which we don’t have to pay back until the bridge is up and tolls are being collected.

Read more
Opinion
9:53 am
Thu April 17, 2014

Journalists work hard to tell you everything you don't want to hear

To put it mildly, journalists are not the most beloved group in society. They never have been. We show up to tell you all sorts of unpleasant truths about life, society, your leaders and yourselves.

“Good afternoon. The mayor’s a crook, the governor is owned by special interests, your city is broke and your water polluted.”

“The country is involved in a ridiculous war it isn’t winning, your child is getting a lousy education, your roads will cost billions to fix and your representatives sold out to corporate interests. By the way, your kids are binge drinking and you are too fat. Have a nice day.” 

It’s no wonder people aren’t all that happy when they see us coming. Like any other profession or family, we also have our share of black sheep. Journalists who lie or make things up are very rare, but nobody forgets it when they do.

Read more
Opinion
11:29 am
Wed April 16, 2014

You don’t want to play poker with Kevyn Orr

Here’s the one thing certain about Detroit’s bankruptcy: You don’t want to play poker with Kevyn Orr.

The state-appointed emergency manager had everyone convinced city workers and retirees were facing a steep 26% cut in their pensions – a cut that would jump to 34% if they didn’t quickly approve the smaller amount.

The city was getting ready to mail them all ballots explaining the cuts and asking for their approval.

Then, voilà – yesterday, everything changed. Suddenly, negotiators came up with a deal whereby most pensions would be cut by less than 5%. Police and fire retirees pensions won’t be cut at all.

There seems little doubt that the 32,000 employees and retirees will approve this deal. Yet we need to remember two things. First of all, this is not final yet – not by a long shot.

Something else that’s still very uncertain has to happen first. The Michigan Legislature has to approve contributing $350 million to a fund designed to shore up the pensions and protect any of the work in the city-owned collections in the Detroit Institute of Arts from being possibly sold for the benefit of the creditors.

Read more
Opinion
11:29 am
Tue April 15, 2014

This is doing more damage to Detroit than a hundred drug murders could have

By now, millions know the story.

Thirteen days ago, on the east side of Detroit, a ten-year-old boy darted in front of a truck driven by a middle-aged tree trimmer named Steven Utash. He couldn’t help hitting the child, whose leg was broken.

When Utash got out to check on the boy, a mob beat him so severely he nearly died. He was in a medically-induced coma for days, and may end up with permanent brain damage.

All that is horrifying enough, but there is one additional terrible detail which is the main reason the story has gotten national attention.

The tree trimmer was white. His assailants were all black. And I can tell you that this is doing more damage to Detroit than a hundred drug murders could have. This may be more devastating to the city than Kwame Kilpatrick ever was. People are used to crooked politicians of all colors, shapes and sizes. Detroit had white mayors who wound up in prison long before Kilpatrick was born.

Read more
Opinion
10:10 am
Mon April 14, 2014

We pay for bad roads with more repairs, higher fuel costs

If by any chance you’ve left your house anytime in, oh, say, the last year, you may have noticed that our roads are in terrible shape. Gov. Rick Snyder knows this. Two years ago, he asked the Legislature for $1.2 billion a year for a decade in new money to fix the roads. If you think that’s a lot, you’re right.

But it is less than studies show our horrible roads are costing us every year in the increased cost of fuel and car repairs, as well as  the incalculable cost of businesses that won’t expand in or move to Michigan because our infrastructure is in such lousy shape.

The governor hasn’t always been a statesman, nor above pandering to the far right. But he is a businessman, and devoted to economic expansion. He knows you need decent roads to attract business, especially the kind that produce high-tech, high-paying jobs.

Read more
Politics & Government
8:57 am
Sat April 12, 2014

The week in review

Credit Photo by penywise / morgueFile

This Week in Review, Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss the latest with the Detroit bankruptcy, the continuing controversies over the General Motors recall, and the money problems involving the charter school system running Muskegon Heights schools.

Week in Review interview for 4/11/14

Opinion
11:50 am
Fri April 11, 2014

Tiger Stadium: The place where Detroit dies or is reborn

Well, the news got even worse for General Motors yesterday. Detroit’s future and the outcome of its bankruptcy remain much in doubt. I’ve talked about all these things before, and I am sure I’ll talk about them again. However, today I want to tell you a heartwarming little story of determination and resilience that you can share in.

If you are in the Lansing area tomorrow afternoon and have time, go to the Capital City Film Festival and see Stealing Home. If you are in the Detroit area, they are showing it in Ferndale Sunday afternoon at Renaissance Vineyard Church. More details are on the Stealing Home Facebook page.

My guess is that this film will blow you away. The French historian and philosopher Jacques Barzun famously said, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”

Read more
Opinion
10:14 am
Thu April 10, 2014

Detroit bondholders will be paid 74 cents on the dollar; working women can relate

If you heard my commentary yesterday on the latest in the Detroit bankruptcy battles, I began with the news that the city had reached a deal with the holders of its general obligation bonds.

All we knew then was that an agreement had been reached, and I said the bondholders were, to quote myself, “evidently going to settle for less than 20 cents on every dollar owed them.”

Well, I was astonishingly far off.

In fact, they ended up settling for 74 cents for every dollar. But there is a reason why I was so wrong.

Read more
Opinion
2:10 pm
Wed April 9, 2014

If you think the Detroit Institute of Arts is now safe, think again

If you aren’t following every twist and turn in the saga of Detroit’s bankruptcy, you may think things are well on track.

Today, in fact, came the good news that the city has apparently reached a deal with its unsecured bondholders, who are evidently going to settle for almost 75 cents of every dollar owed them. 

But the biggest and toughest challenges are ahead.

And if you think the Detroit Institute of Arts is now safe, think again.

Here is how things stand:

Read more
Politics & Government
10:28 am
Wed April 9, 2014

The week in Michigan politics

Credit NOAA

This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss the state of education in Michigan, an update on the Detroit bankruptcy and the race to fill four seats from Michigan's congressional delegation.

Week in Michigan Politics interview for 4/9/14

Opinion
10:34 am
Tue April 8, 2014

With Michigan members of Congress hitting the exit, replacements scramble for money

Jack Lessenberry talks about the challenges facing those who want to run for Congress.

Congressmen don’t stay on the job forever, though it sometimes seems like it.

This year will be the last for Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, first elected in 1978, and Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, the all-time longevity champ, who has represented a Detroit-area district since 1955.

Their retirements, while momentous, weren’t very surprising. Indeed, Carl Levin announced that he wouldn’t run for re-election more than a year ago. Far more shocking was the sudden decision by two mid-Michigan Republican Congressmen to bow out.

Both Rep. Dave Camp, R-Michigan, and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, had safe seats, a fair amount of seniority, and are youngish men by congressional standards. Yet within the last few days, both said they wouldn’t run for re-election.

That set off something of a mad scramble.

Read more
Opinion
2:08 pm
Mon April 7, 2014

A peculiar quota system may weaken the Democratic ticket.

Remarkably, we already know virtually everyone who will be nominated by both parties for the major statewide offices this year. Every candidate, that is, except one. I’m not talking about candidates for statewide education boards or high court races.

I’m talking about the four high-profile elected positions. And though we are almost four months from the statewide primaries and the state party conventions, the lineup is pretty much set.

Republicans will run all their incumbents – Governor Rick Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Democrats are set to nominate Mark Schauer, a former congressman from Battle Creek, for governor, and Lisa Brown, the Oakland County clerk, as his running mate. Mark Totten is the only candidate for attorney general. But what about secretary of state?

Read more
Opinion
12:41 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Cowardly politicians hope you think they are fixing our roads

There was a lot of rejoicing yesterday over a new plan to fix Michigan’s roads.

House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, is proposing coming up with $400 million a year in new money.

House Republicans say they can do that without raising taxes. Gov. Snyder, off in Europe on a trade mission, sent word that he thinks this is “a great first step” toward better roads.

Even a spokesperson for the Democrats indicated they thought “some of the elements of the plan make sense and are a good start.”

Well, excuse me, but they are wrong. Almost all wrong.

Read more
Opinion
10:16 am
Thu April 3, 2014

Here's one reason gay voters, Jewish voters, and pro-choice women won't be voting for Snyder

This year’s race for governor has been unusual in one way. Four years ago, both parties had intense primary campaigns going on, and we had no idea in April who the nominees would be.

But this time, it has been settled for months.

Democrats avoided an expensive and divisive fight by uniting early around former legislator and Battle Creek congressman Mark Schauer.

There was never any possibility of a GOP contest once it was clear Rick Snyder would run for reelection, but the last few months must have been frustrating for Schauer.

Most polls show the race close, or dead even, but Schauer has failed to attract much attention. In part, that’s because there’s been so much other news, from Detroit’s bankruptcy to retiring congressmen to General Motors’ huge ignition-switch crisis. But it is also due to the fact that Schauer, a likeable and intelligent man, does not “fill up a room,” with charisma and the force of his personality.

Read more

Pages