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Lester Graham

Reporter/Host of Stateside

Lester Graham splits his time between hosting Stateside (Fridays) and reporting for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC). He was formerly the Senior Editor of The Environment Report, the environmental news service based at Michigan Radio, starting with the service in 1998.

He has been a journalist since 1985. Graham has served as a board member of the Public Radio News Directors Inc., and also served as President of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. He is a member of the Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), Society of Professional Journalists and other professional groups.

Lester has received more than 100 awards at the state, regional, national and international levels for journalistic excellence, including four RTDNA Edward R. Murrow awards, two of them at the network level.

Twitter: @MichiganWatch

Facebook link

email:  llgraham@umich.edu

Ways to Connect

cocktail and bottles of liquor
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings wanted to mix a drink to honor one of Michigan’s distillers.

“Our friends out at Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids just won a big award. They were named ‘Best of Class’ for their 'Old Aquavit’ at the American Distillers Institute.”  (See award winners here.)

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There was a showdown of sorts at this week’s Democratic Endorsement Convention. Young progressive activists are demanding more say in the party that’s been controlled to a great degree by labor unions. The key race of the convention was symbolic of the divide. 

a frame from the "shady schuette" ad with bill schuette in sunglasses
Calley Continues Comeback / YouTube

An attack ad against Bill Schuette is full of false statements according to Bridge Magazine’s Truth Squad. Schuette is a Republican candidate for governor. The ad comes from a Super PAC supporting one of his Republican opponents. We talked with the reporter behind the Truth Squad report.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is running for governor. But first, he has to get the Republican nomination. His campaign is running a video ad that Bridge Magazine’s Truth Squad finds stretches the truth a bit. 

Let’s go straight to the video. Here’s the main point Brian Calley wants to make to voters.

“I was the driving force behind historic tax cuts and cast the deciding vote to balance Michigan’s budget. What happened? Half a million jobs have been created. We hit the lowest unemployment rate in seventeen years.”

The Truth Squad’s Ted Roelofs says Calley is taking a lot of credit in this ad.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This weekend Democrats will endorse a candidate for Attorney General, a candidate for Secretary of State, and candidates for State Supreme Court. Jocelyn Benson is running unopposed for Secretary of State. Three Democrats want the job of Attorney General. Below are responses (in alphabetical order of the candidates’ last name) to issues such as consumer protection, the environment, Enbridge’s Line 5 which runs under the Straits of Mackinac, and LGBTQ civil rights. 

Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

We like to talk with people who make things we use. This time we make a stop in Jackson.

Chris Maples has been making ice fishing rods for a couple of decades. His company is called Frozen Puppy Custom Ice Rods

He designs the rod handles and hand ties everything. He makes the kind of rods that he likes, but he's open to what his customers want. Listen to his story above.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A unique collection of Inuit art is being given to the University of Michigan Museum of Art. More than 200 stone sculptures and prints from the Inuit people on Baffin Island in Canada, just west of Greenland. The collection is valued at $2.5 million. There are additional funds to endow an Inuit art program. These gifts from from Phil and Kathy Power.

The story behind the collection is as interesting as the art itself. Phil Power gave Lester Graham a tour of the collection in this extended version of the interview.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Tammy Coxen was coughing.

“I did a really stupid thing,” she said, explaining, “I told my friends, ‘It’s been great; I haven’t gotten sick all year.’ Now, I have a cold.”

There’s a drink for that. Well, there wasn’t, but Coxen, of Tammy’s Tastings, came up with one.

“This is Tammy’s Cure-All,” she said between coughs.

Her inspiration was trying to put all the things people say are good for fighting a cold: orange juice, ginger, lemon juice, and honey.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

As it stands now, the likely nominee for United States Senate is three-time Senator Debbie Stabenow. Gretchen Whitmer is getting endorsements from leading Democrats in her pursuit of the nomination for governor. Jocelyn Benson is running unopposed for her party’s nomination for secretary of state. There’s also a woman running for attorney general, as well as two African-American men.

Dana Nessel is a former prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney. She’s probably most famous for her efforts to get gay marriage legalized in the U.S.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We travel the state every once in a while for our Artisans of Michigan series, and this time we went to Flint.

C.H. Schultz & Sons has been repairing upholstery in cars nearly as long as cars have been around. Back in 1917, more than 100 years ago, Clyde H. Schultz was working at Buick and in the garage behind his house. A family business was born. Deborah Schultz-Pawloski is the third generation.

And all that car history is inspiration for her.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Swilling and spilling green beer is part of the Saint Patrick’s Day tradition for some folks. There is an alternative if you prefer something other than a cheap lager with green dye. It’s a cocktail named the Tipperary after the town and county in Ireland.

“It does have one green ingredient in it,” Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings quipped, adding “…the drink itself is not green.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Democrats running for state Attorney General represent two wings of the party.

Dana Nessel is a self-described progressive. Pat Miles is more centrist, but he’s shifted some of his positions on issues as he’s talked to Democrats across the state.

We asked each of the candidates about asset forfeiture.

Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize property when police think it was bought with illegally gotten money such as drug money.

But, even if those people are not convicted or even charged with a crime, they have to fight in court to get their assets back.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“I was listening to your great piece from a couple of weeks ago about Brewed in Michigan,” Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings said about a recent interview with author William Rapai on Stateside. (You can hear the interview conducted at Arbor Brewing Company here.)

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s Black History Month and the Cheers! team of Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham have a cocktail recipe used by America’s first celebrity bartender, Cato Alexander.

“I wanted to make sure that we gave a shout out to some of the amazing black bartenders who have worked in the past and in the present,” Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The economy is booming and the unemployment rates for the nation and Michigan are low. In Detroit, the official rate has fallen dramatically since peaking at more than 28% in 2009.

But the rate that’s often cited only tells part of the story.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

If you spend much time in Detroit at all, you’ve likely seen this guy’s work.

Jordan Zielke is a sign painter with Motown Sign Company. But he didn’t start out doing that. He went to school for fine art. He left that behind and hasn’t looked back.

“I feel great about it,” he said, laughing.

Zielke said he had a hard time finding meaning and purpose in fine art. But, in commercial art and sign painting in particular, the purpose is clear and the rules are definite.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Groundhog Day can go one of two ways. If that rodent sees his/her shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of winter. If not, spring will arrive early. We’ve got recipes using nearly the same ingredients to be prepared either way.

“So depending on what happened with that darned groundhog, then we’ll know whether we need to drink another hot toddy to keep us warm for six more weeks of winter or whether we can start looking ahead to summer,” quipped Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We’re downstairs at Elderly Instruments in Lansing. There’s a lot of talent inside these walls. (See a previous Artisans of Michigan from Elderly here.)

“This place is like an incubator, really. You can bounce ideas off everybody. It’s pretty fertile ground in here and you get to see just the best examples of historic instruments and you get to see what the good stuff is,” Steve Olson said.

Under his Cone Tone company, Olson has designed a resonator guitar which can be played acoustically or plugged in.

Coxen holding a snifter of hot toddy
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

When you come in from the frigid temperatures we’ve been experiencing, mixing up an ice cold cocktail might not seem the best way to end the day. What you really want is something warm.

Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings says that’s why we have the hot toddy.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Outside of Grand Ledge, at the end of a long driveway tucked away among the trees, we found a house and a large steel barn, the workshop of our latest featured artisan, Allen Deming of Mackinaw Watercraft.

He’s been building monocoque strip built boats as a full-time pursuit for ten years. Monocoque strip built is basically a single hull canoe or a kayak or other vessel made from strips of wood glued together and then sealed with fiberglass and epoxy.

How is Detroit Doing?

Dec 22, 2017
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

When traveling out of state, people from Michigan often are asked, “Hey, how’s Detroit doing?”

The largest municipal bankruptcy and the subsequent stories about Detroit’s revival have captured the curiosity of the rest of the nation and the world.

Detroit’s successes in its business districts, downtown and Midtown, get most of the attention. Every billionaire’s acquisition, every refurbished building, every taxpayer assisted development have contributed to the conclusion that Detroit is America’s “Comeback City.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

You don’t have to have a password, or pull a secret lever, or push a button for entry, but the Sidebar in Grand Rapids definitely has that speakeasy feel. The address is available: 80 Ottawa Avenue NW, but finding it is a little tricky. Hint: go down the steps toward the pizza place.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Racial divisions are a major contributor to the decline of Detroit. White flight started after World War II and continued. There was a late spike in flight from the city after 2000. That’s when City of Detroit employees no longer had to live in the city. That’s led to lost wealth, lost tax revenue, and blighted neighborhoods.

Even when Detroit was majority white, racial lines were strictly drawn.

“You can’t underestimate the intensity of that segregation in housing and the role that it played in dividing metropolitan Detroit by race,” said Thomas Sugrue.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Earlier this year, Stateside traveled to Plymouth to visit Planet Marimba. That’s the workshop of Matt Kazmierski. It’s actually the garage at his home. When we arrived, he was working on a practice marimba which basically is a scaled back marimba with no resonator which makes it quieter.

If you’re a college music student, getting into a studio to practice can be a challenge. But, if you’ve got a practice marimba, you can practice at home and not disturb the neighbors.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“It’s like Christmas in a glass,” said Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings.

She’s talking about a cocktail invented by the principle bartender at The Last Word craft cocktail bar in Ann Arbor, Giancarlo Aversa.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

When we talked with Babacar Lo of the Wicker Shop, the weather was still warm and Lo was in his backyard in Detroit, working. Under a tent and surrounded by potted plants, he was repairing rattan and wicker furniture, a skill he first encountered in his home country of Senegal.

“I did a little bit of weaving, making rattan and bamboo furniture in Africa just in my spare time,” Lo said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Cheers! team, Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings and Lester Graham, found a distiller serving up a cocktail with a spirit made with all Michigan ingredients.

MorningSide: A Detroit Neighborhood

Nov 10, 2017
MorningSide
Mercedes Meija / Michigan Radio

Downtown Detroit is in the midst of a resurgence. However, business districts in the neighborhoods are not seeing the same successes. The decline in population and the decline in wealth in many neighborhoods is keeping much of the city in a prolonged economic downturn.

Detroit has the highest auto insurance costs in the nation. Depending on the survey, it costs somewhere between seven thousand and ten thousand dollars a year.

Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

We travel the state to talk to people who make beautiful and useful things. We call the series “Artisans of Michigan.”

We’re visiting with Ed Fedewa. He plays the bass in the Lansing Symphony Orchestra. He also plays in jazz ensembles and repairs bass instruments for players from all over. But that’s not why we’re at his house, we wanted to talk to him about the double bass he built.

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