by Charlie Cain
July 16, 2009
Editors note: Charlie Cain, who served 32 years in the Lansing Bureau of The Detroit News — the last 18 as bureau chief — became another victim of the struggling newspaper industry when his job was eliminated June 1 in an economic downsizing. Charlie is exploring his options for a new career in which he can take advantage of his communication skills and his intricate knowledge of state government and Michigan politics. Dome asked Charlie to dig into his mental reporter’s notebook and share some thoughts on several of the most interesting people and events he covered during his long tenure. The following vignettes are the result.
When Jennifer Granholm was launching her successful run for Michigan attorney general in 1998, she made an unannounced visit to The Detroit News Lansing Bureau to introduce herself to the gang. It was the first time we’d met her.
I led her into the bureau’s “living room” where we have a couch, chairs and TV. Normally, if the television is on, it’s tuned to CNN or a sporting event.
But as luck would have it, that day our researcher/librarian had it dialed into “Baywatch.” Shapely women in revealing swimsuits were running and jiggling down the beach as Granholm sat down.
If Granholm took note, she didn’t say anything. I was mortified and totally embarrassed. After she left, I instructed my colleague never to tune into that show again.
Highballs with Hermus
Hermus Millsaps, a factory worker from Taylor, became the Lottery’s first million-dollar winner on February 22, 1973.
Some suggested the Lottery PR people had invented a character, because the back story was almost too good to be true. His car was on the fritz the day of the drawing, so he and his Russian-born wife hopped a Greyhound bus to Lansing. They carried a brown paper-bag lunch to save money. Hermus did invest 57 cents on a chartreuse rabbit’s foot for luck.
After he won he led a group of journalists across the street to a watering hole, where the bartender explained that he couldn’t cash Hermus’s $50,000, first-installment check. The scribes bought the drinks.
Hermus immediately quit his job. He later grew weary of the media attention and quit giving interviews.
This reporter was writing a package of stories about the 5th anniversary of the Michigan Lottery and Hermus’s big win. I decided to take a chance and pay a cold-call visit on a Saturday afternoon. His wife answered the door and said her husband didn’t want to be bothered. As I made my case on the front steps, Hermus peeked out his head.
He swung open the door of their small Taylor home, which featured a heated driveway to melt the snow, five televisions and old newspapers stacked on every chair and couch in the house.
In the basement he brought out his guitar and amp, pulled out his dental plate and with great enthusiasm sang the “Wabash Cannonball,” complete with howls imitating the horn of a train. He fixed us both a “highball” — followed by multiple others.
As I was leaving after a couple-hour visit, Hermus insisted I not go away empty handed. He retrieved a glass container of pickled pig’s feet from his fridge and a cheap, tin ashtray stamped with “Iowa” and in the shape of the Hawkeye State from a cupboard and handed them to me.
I couldn’t help chuckling as I walked down his sidewalk, half in the bag, carrying gifts from the unlikeliest of millionaires.
On November 14, 1986, Lansing was rocked when Court of Appeals Judge S. Jerome Bronson was arrested by Michigan State Police and arraigned on felony bribery charges stemming from a case pending before him.
Authorities said the 56-year-old jurist, with an unblemished record, accepted an envelope stuffed with $20,000 in cash. More money was to be paid later.
Bronson was allowed to leave pending further legal action. He drove to his home in Oakland County’s Franklin Village.
Reporters were intentionally not notified of the situation until after Bronson had left Lansing, sparing him at least one indignity.
Late that afternoon I tracked down the judge’s phone number. A man I assumed was Bronson answered.
“I really have nothing to say, I’m sorry,” was all he said.
A short time later, he grabbed a pistol, went out to his horse barn and killed himself.
To this day I sometimes get a chill wondering if I might have been the last person he ever spoke to.
Snap, Crackle, Pop
Covering Michigan stops of presidential contenders was a staple of the beat. But rarely did I get the opportunity to interview a candidate one-on-one. Usually reporters sit in a cordoned-off area and watch candidates deliver the same speech they gave an hour before at some other public forum. The frontrunners generally don’t take questions from reporters at these events.
So I was looking forward to the seven minutes George W. Bush’s press office promised me when Bush made a campaign stop in Battle Creek in the summer of 2000.
Shortly before I left Lansing to drive to the Cereal City, my editor called to say the publisher had requested I ask the man — who would be the next Leader of the Free World — if he ate Kellogg cereal at breakfast.
Okay, I understand that Kellogg has been around for over a century and that it’s the world’s leading producer of cereal. But talking Tony the Tiger with the brief time I had alone with Bush seemed a waste.
Anyway, Bush said, sure, he ate Kellogg cereal and was particularly fond of Corn Flakes (what else is he going to say in B.C.?).
As I glanced at a rapidly moving clock, Bush proceeded to talk about how, when he was home in Texas, he actually preferred grits for breakfast.
With the remaining couple minutes we didn’t get a chance to discuss much, and nothing of any real news value came out of his mouth.
I transcribed the tape, then wrote a short story about Bush and cereal that the boss had requested.
It never saw the light of print.
In the summer of 1985, states across the nation were lined up, each hoping to land the Saturn Car Company that General Motors was set to launch in hopes of capturing a bigger chunk of the small car market.
Governor James Blanchard (who was elected governor on a day when Michigan’s jobless rate stood at 16.9 percent and whose campaign mantra had been “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”) and his team were doing all they could to land the production plant and the good-paying jobs it would generate.
In all, 38 states were vying for the facility.
In late July I was on vacation, painting the dining room, when my editor called to say the vacation was being cut short. He said I was to go Nashville, Tennessee, along with my Lansing Bureau colleague Mike Lewis and a photographer. Our business desk had gotten a tip that the list of contenders had been whittled down to three — Michigan, Kentucky and, the most likely, Tennessee. A decision was imminent.
We rushed to charter a small prop plane. We flew over the small town of Spring Hill so our photographer could lean out the window to take aerial shots of the farmland rumored to be the site of the future assembly plant.
We got hotel rooms in Nashville, the state capital 30 miles away, and waited for the announcement. We ended up waiting for several days with nothing much to report on. To kill time we spent a day at Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Theme Park in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and went to a movie theater to see the just-released Back to the Future starring Michael J. Fox.
Finally, on July 30, 1985, GM announced that Tennessee was the sweepstakes winner.
It was another feather in the cap of Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, who had recently taken over as chairman of the National Governors Association. He also was fresh off another big win by convincing his reluctant legislature to raise the sales and business taxes to pump more money into K-12 schools.
We asked Alexander’s press secretary if we could get an interview with the governor on a national roll. He arranged for us to meet with the governor at his state-owned residence, an impressive, three-story, 15,000-square-foot Georgian Revival house.
The interview took place in the formal library/study and it wasn’t going very well — at least from the perspective of the reporters. Alexander was guarded and aloof.
Suddenly the doors to the room flung open, and in bounded two huge dogs. The voice of an unseen woman yelled out: “Sic ’em. Sic ’em. They’re Yankees.”
It turned out to be the governor’s wife, Honey.
After we all had a big laugh the interview took on a much more relaxed tone. Mike and I had an exclusive front-page story the next day.
Over And Out
In the State of Michigan’s 172-year history, only two lawmakers have been expelled by their colleagues and just two have been recalled by voters. I covered all four of those events.
Rep. Monte Geralds (D-Madison Heights) became the first lawmaker expelled from the Michigan Legislature on May 10, 1978. An attorney, he had been convicted of embezzling $24,000 from a wealthy Bloomfield Hills heiress he had represented before being elected to office.
His case was on appeal, but fellow lawmakers didn’t like serving alongside a convicted felon.
Geralds refused to resign.
Geralds, who chain smoked throughout the historic debate, finally got up to speak. Rocking back and forth on his heels, he said: “I was innocent. I am innocent and I always will be innocent of those charges.”
Moments before the 84-20 vote to expel Geralds, House Speaker Bobby Crim had his say.
“Monte, this is not easy for me because I’m asking for your expulsion…I pray no future legislature will again be faced with this decision.”
Another one was.
On May 24, 2001, Sen. David Jaye (R-Washington Township) became the first person booted from the Senate.
The Macomb County maverick, ultra-conservative had been charged, but never convicted, of physically assaulting his fiancé on two separate occasions. He was also accused of inappropriate behavior for having sexually explicit photos on his Senate-owned computer and with verbal assault of Senate staff. Jaye had earlier been thrice convicted on drunken driving charges.
Just before he was expelled, a defiant Jaye said his only crime was his anti-establishment political views. Just two senators voted against the expulsion — Jaye and Sen. Don Koivisto, an Upper Peninsula Democrat (and now director of the Department of Agriculture).
Tax Vote Recalls
Recall fever swept the legislature in 1983 after it went along with newly elected Gov. James Blanchard’s call for a 38-percent increase in the state income tax. Only one Republican — Sen. Harry DeMaso of Battle Creek — voted for the controversial measure.
Numerous recall efforts were launched against lawmakers who voted for the tax hike. Two were successful.
On November 22, 1983, Sen. Phil Mastin (D-Pontiac) was recalled by voters in his district. Eight days later, Sen. David Serotkin (D-Mt. Clemens) met the same fate. Both men had been in office for less than a year and had won by the narrowest of margins.
They would be replaced by Republicans, switching Senate control to the GOP — a majority it has not relinquished. It also elevated John Engler to Senate majority leader, where he laid the groundwork to unseat heavily favored Gov. Blanchard in 1990.
Dominic Jacobetti was a larger-than-life lawmaker and a power onto himself. He chaired the House Appropriations Committee — where spending decisions involving billions of state dollars are made — with an iron hand during his 18 years as chair.
The son of Italian immigrants, Jacobetti worked in the mines of his beloved Upper Peninsula, working his way up the union leadership ladder.
The first time I went to his office to interview Jacobetti, a framed poster of Marlon Brando as the character Vito Corleone from the movie The Godfather hung on the wall peering down over Jacobetti’s shoulder.
With no prompting, Jake stuffed some tissue in his jowls and did a splendid impression: “Why do you treat me with such disrespect? I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
When “Jake” took the microphone on the House floor, nearly everyone stopped to listen because of his penchant for fiery speeches.
One of my favorite “Jake” lines came during a debate in the late 1970s about whether to enact an auto seatbelt law.
Jacobetti was opposed and concluded a rousing speech, booming: “If you’re born to drown, you won’t hang.”
At times he was as subtle as a train wreck.
In 1990 when John Engler was first running for governor, his campaign office was in a building where Jacobetti had an apartment on an upper floor.
Late one night, after an evening on the town, Jacobetti stopped at the campaign office door and while grumbling about “that damn Engler” proceeded to urinate on the glass door.
Some years back, fellow reporter Joanna Firestone and I were researching a story on Lansing night life and visited the Playboy Club (a picture we later published of a lawmaker dancing with a woman didn’t sit well when his wife saw it), the Knight Cap with its world class steaks, and other “hotspots” to observe how lawmakers let their hair down.
I asked Jacobetti if it would be all right if I came to an evening fundraiser he was holding and include it in our story. He agreed.
There was going to be a raffle and the winner would receive a huge basket filled with bottles of expensive booze and fine wines.
“Jake” rigged the drawing and called out my number. I told him that I couldn’t accept the basket because it would be unethical. He finally agreed and presented me an Upper Peninsula belt buckle instead. I took it.
In 1993 my Lansing Bureau colleagues Jim Mitzelfeld and Eric Freedman wrote a series of stories revealing a scandal at the House Fiscal Agency, which was under Jacobetti’s control.
About $1.8 million in state funds was taken by staffers at the agency, some of which was reportedly used to buy weapons for Croatia.
Ten fiscal agency employees were fired and several went to jail, including the agency director. Mitzelfeld and Freedman won a Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s highest honor. And Jacobetti, though never accused of criminal wrongdoing, was stripped of his gavel.
“Jake” — who yielded more power than just about anybody in Lansing, who had Upper Peninsula buildings and a stretch of highway named on his behalf — was suddenly an outcast. He sat at his desk on the House floor while most of the representatives ignored him. It must have been humiliating for the man many called “The Godfather.”
Jacobetti died in November 1994 at the age of 74, just weeks after being reelected to his 21st term. His 40-year tenure is a legislative record that will never be broken.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s The Detroit News published several versions of a “Best and Worst Lawmakers” story. In each we sent out more than a thousand surveys to lawmakers, lobbyists, association folks and others asking them to rate their 10 best and 10 worst lawmakers. It was an anonymous survey and no one was asked to sign his or her name.
In the first survey I drew the short straw and had to get reaction from those on the “worst list.”
Sen. Tom Guastello, a Macomb County Democrat, was among them. Several of those surveyed complained the lawmaker spent far too much time flirting with women, much of the attention unwanted.
On the Friday night before the story was published, I was alone in the bureau when in walked Guastello. I showed him what some of the survey participants had written.
A grim-faced Guastello said: “Should I tell Mama?”
No. 1 on that year’s worst list was Sen. Arthur Cartwright (D-Detroit), who on occasion was verbally challenged. During a debate he once said: “The facts is beginning to submerge.”
Told of his dubious distinction in our survey, Cartwright said: “Well, you can’t always hit homeruns.”
Put Up Your Dukes
Usually “legislative battles” involve spirited debates among people with vastly differing political points of view. Not always.
Back in 1978 an emotional debate was being waged over a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Tempers were rising.
Rep. Rosetta Ferguson (D-Detroit) was arguing against passage, saying it could lead to small children finding a marijuana joint on the ground or left on a table by a negligent parent, eat it and get “marijuana drunk.”
Bill sponsor Rep. Perry Bullard (D-Ann Arbor) at one point called Ferguson’s argument “ignorant.”
Suddenly, Ferguson rushed over to Bullard and slugged him in the head. She also took a glass ashtray from a desk and popped a dumfounded Bullard upside the head.
It was front page stuff — two state representatives in a fight during a formal House session. It certainly embarrassed both lawmakers.
Later that year Ferguson sponsored a resolution of tribute to me.
I’ll only bore you with one whereas.
“Whereas, it is indeed a pleasure to offer words of encouragement and praise to Mr. Charlie Cain, Lansing correspondent for The Detroit News, who has earned a deserved reputation as a dynamic young reporter. A gifted journalist, Mr. Cain is involved in one of the finest and most difficult professions — the search for truth in all particulars and the descriptions of that truth to the general public — an awesome prospect indeed and one in which he deserves all honor for his courage, commitment, and respect for the individual…”
It was co-sponsored by 62 other representatives. I was summoned to the front of the speaker’s podium and presented the framed resolution during session. Nothing like that had happened to me before or since. The resolution, loaded with hyperbole, hangs on the wall of my study.
Ferguson told me she introduced the resolution because I was the only reporter who physically showed up at her office to listen to her side of the story.
A dozen or so years later, another emotional debate — this time over taxes — was brewing in the upper chamber, where senators take themselves much more seriously.
Sen. Gil DiNello, a conservative Macomb County lawmaker, and Sen. John Kelly, a liberal lawmaker from the east side of Detroit, were waging pitched verbal battle.
It quickly escalated, blows were exchanged and the pair wrestled between the desks.
I’m pretty sure the school kids who had come to Lansing to watch the day’s Senate proceedings from the overhead gallery were stunned by this civics lesson.
Gov. William G. Milliken was maybe the most gentlemanly of politicians I ever encountered. That may explain his reaction to a quote I used from him.
It was December 1977 and fellow reporter David Ashenfelter and I had an end-of- the-year interview with the governor. I was just completing my first year in Lansing and was astounded at how far-reaching and complicated state government was.
I was sincere in asking Milliken how he could possibly stay on top of everything, and didn’t his job get to be a pain the neck.
“Sometimes, it’s a real pain in the ass,” said the governor. “No wait. That’s off the record.”
When we got back to the bureau we phoned our editor in Detroit and explained what Milliken said, and in what context. He said run it.
There on Page One was Milliken saying his job was “a pain in the ass.”
I bumped into Milliken the following day walking down a Capitol hallway. He stopped and sternly said: “Someday I’ll want to talk to you about that.”
In an interview with Milliken for his 2006 book William G. Milliken. Michigan’s Passionate Moderate, author Dave Dempsey wrote that the former governor brought the incident up. Milliken told Dempsey that George Weeks, his press secretary at the time, agreed with the newspaper’s view. “You don’t go off the record retroactively,” Weeks told his boss.
To this day I have a good relationship with Milliken. But not a conversation goes by without him good naturedly referencing that quote.
In the early 1990s we were researching a story about lawmakers who didn’t live in their legislative districts. Jim Mitzelfeld and I had found four such cases.
One was Sen. Michael O’Brien (D-Detroit), who was living and sending his kids to school in Brighton, some 45 miles away.
We visited the Detroit address he listed as home, and one look was all it took to convince us no state lawmaker would live there. It was a hardscrabble neighborhood. An abandoned vehicle was left on the front lawn a couple of doors down.
We spoke with some neighbors who said there was no Mike O’Brien in the neighborhood. They didn’t recognize the photo of the senator we had brought with us.
O’Brien had a reputation as a hard guy, somewhat of a bully.
Jim and I paid a call on him to share our findings and get some comments from him.
Seated behind his desk in the Capitol, O’Brien stared at us icily for a few tense moments and then said:
“I have a gun. My aide has two.”
Jim asked if the senator was physically threatening us, and never got an answer.
We left, a little shaken, a short time later. Jim suggested we get the threat on an official record. We went to the Capitol State Police Post and spoke with a lieutenant.
He took down our information. And before we left, the officer told us that O’Brien had threatened him as well a couple years earlier.
We got a great front-page story under the headline “Nobody Home.”
As far as I know, no police intervention was initiated. I don’t think I ever spoke again with O’Brien.
I’ve been to many cocktail parties with politicians, but a few stand out.
In 1987 Traverse City played host to the summer meeting of the National Governors Association. Gov. James Blanchard was determined to do it up right. There were fireworks, great meals, day side trips and other events to keep the governors entertained.
But the highlight was the Motown Review party where the governors, spouses and others were literally dancing in the aisles to the Motown beat.
I still have a photograph of Blanchard, dressed in a white-sequined tuxedo jacket, dancing on stage with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas as they belted out their classic “Nowhere to Run.”
Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, chairman of the NGA that year, got a saxophone and joined Junior Walker and the All Stars.
The following day when reporters started asking policy questions of Clinton, his first comment was: “Good Lord, last night I thought I died and went to heaven, playing ‘Shotgun’ with Junior Walker.”
Over the years, I covered six national political conventions, traveling to great towns like San Francisco, New York and Boston.
But for the social events, none compared to the 1996 GOP convention in San Diego.
Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus hosted a party at the Hotel del Coronado, where the classic comedy Some Like it Hot was shot on location in 1958. The cast included such legends as Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.
It’s one of America’s most beautiful beach resorts. And the lieutenant governor’s gig was right on the beach with great food and drinks and a stunning view of the water.
Michigan’s convention delegates, state and GOP bigwigs, and, yes, some reporters, made fools of themselves dancing the Macarena into the night. It was the perfect setting for a party.
A day or so later Michigan’s delegation was invited to a local club featuring a performance by The Beach Boys.
Gov. John Engler’s wife, Michelle, danced up a storm with Ronna Romney, an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate that year, as The Beach Boys improvised on one of their hits.
“Help me Ronna, help help me Ronna,” they sang.
It was the final day of the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, a day when nominee Walter Mondale would all but kiss the election good-bye by announcing he would raise taxes.
I was scheduled to fly back to Michigan the following morning when a news bulletin on the wire abruptly changed those plans.
A shocking story was unfolding in the small, border town of San Ysidro, California. A gunman had walked into a crowded McDonald’s and sprayed the crowd with gunfire. Bodies piled up on the floor and on the street outside.
James Oliver Huberty, a 41-year-old unemployed security guard, had left his house telling his wife: “I’m going hunting. Hunting humans.”
When the 77-minute McDonald’s massacre was finally over, 21 people, including five children and six teenagers, lay dead. Another 19 were wounded. A police sharpshooter on the roof of a neighboring building killed Huberty, who authorities said blamed Mexicans for his inability to find work.
It was the largest single-day, single-gunman massacre in U.S. history.
Spending a couple of days in San Ysidro, talking to families who had lost loved ones and witnessing the pain and grief that enveloped the town, had a deep impact on me. At that moment the world of partisan politics no longer seemed all that important or meaningful.
The best assignment I ever got was a five-day trip to Italy in May 1997 to cover a Michigan National Guard unit’s mission to help enforce a no-fly edict over the skies of war-torn Bosnia.
The 110th Fighter Group based in Battle Creek was flying and servicing the A-10 Thunderbolt, a ground attack aircraft affectionately called the “Warthog.” This baby can carry up to 10 Maverick air-to-surface missiles and its cannon can fire off up to 4,200 armor-piercing incendiary rounds per minute.
The Aviano Air Base is nestled into the base of the Italian Alps. Each day photographer Dale Young and I would go to the “flight line” and watch the mechanics and technicians service the Warthogs and interview the pilots after their flights were successfully completed.
The Air Guardsmen made us feel at home, driving us to quaint Italian restaurants up in the mountains, where we spent hours packing away multiple-course meals.
They introduced us to Grappa, a traditional Italian drink that is made from leftover skins and seeds of the grapes used for wine. It’s 90 proof, clear in color and packs a wallop, making for interesting drives on narrow and winding roads back down the mountain.
During a Sunday down day, Dale and I boarded a train for the 50-mile trip to Venice, where we walked for hours visiting the distinctive shops and churches and watching the international jet set and all the beautiful people. We hired a gondolier to row us in a long, slick, wooden Gondola along some of the canals in the storied city.
The Michigan Department of Military Affairs later presented me a plaque thanking me for “outstanding service…[that] contributed immeasurably to the public’s understanding of the unit’s mission and activities while taking part in Operation Joint Endeavor.”
As if that wasn’t more than sufficient thanks, six months later the Michigan Air National Guard invited me to Selfridge Air National Guard Base to fly in an F-16 fighter jet.
I had to bunk on base, and in the morning underwent several hour of training, which primarily consisted of learning how to unleash about a dozen straps on your flight suit. That would be critical if the pilot decided we had to eject from the jet.
This particular F-16 was customized by adding a second, clear-glass bubble canopy to allow for another seat.
The “Fighting Falcon,” which is playing an invaluable role today in Afghanistan and Iraq, has a wing span of 33 feet and can reach altitudes of 50,000 feet. It can rocket along at a speed of 1,500 mph (Mach 2). They cost more than $12 million apiece.
Just before takeoff on a sunny and clear fall day, the pilot said, “we’re cleared to ten thousand.”
Ah, Okay. Came to find out that meant as soon as we cleared the runway we would shoot 10,000 feet straight up. What an unbelievable feeling. The pilot’s water bottle shot back into my lap.
He let me take the controls for a brief time while whipping along at 600 mph over Lake Huron. We went through a series of sharp turns and the G force climbed from 4 all the way to 7. He asked if I wanted to call it a day or max out at nine-G. I’ll never get this chance again. Go for it.
The pressure was amazing, sweat poured out of every pore.
At the conclusion of a spectacular flight, they gave me an Air Force certificate. “This is to certify that Charlie Cain, having experienced the ultimate in aircraft acceleration and maneuverability, and having been physically tested in the nine-G environment is hereby cleared to claim acceptance in an exclusive and select group of pilots who have flown the world’s finest fighter.”
My chest ached for the following two weeks from the pounding delivered during that unforgettable flight.
One summer day earlier this decade, photographer Dale Young and I spent the day with the dozen or so members of the Michigan State Police as they carried out an “Operation Hemp” exercise.
We were advised to wear work boots, long-sleeved shirts and thick jeans. And bring along some bottled water and insect repellant.
The search for illegal marijuana plants that day was in southwest Michigan, near Paw Paw.
We began flying in a helicopter piloted by a trooper with an uncanny ability to spot marijuana plants in large fields. It all looked the same to me.
He would radio the troopers on the ground, giving them directions to the places where he saw the marijuana plants.
We joined up with the troopers on the foot patrol and spent hours walking through muddy and mosquito-infested fields. But we found a mother lode of pot.
In some cases it was clear who cultivated the plants, since they were located near a farm house. In those cases, the troopers would wait until a search warrant arrived. Then they’d move in and make an arrest. People were taken into custody along with a few weapons. The marijuana plants were chopped down and stored as evidence for upcoming court action.
But much of the pot was found in places where it was impossible to determine who grew it.
Those plants were also knocked down with machete-like tools and collected on trucks.
At day’s end, shortly before night fall, about 10 of us gathered in a clearing.
As we drank cold beer from cans, a trooper lit the 10-foot-tall pile of marijuana plants, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on the street. Flames and smoke shot up in the air as the happy tobaccy burned. Talk about your contact high.
When state Rep. Kwame Kilpatrick entered the 2001 race for mayor of Detroit, few thought he could actually win and succeed Mayor Dennis Archer, who was bowing out after eight years at the helm.
Since Kilpatrick was the House Democratic leader, my editors figured I probably knew him better than Detroit-based reporters did and I knew a little about City Hall from my days covering Mayor Coleman A. Young back in 1980.
I tagged along with Kilpatrick, writing campaign-trail stories and a long profile about the charismatic, young lawmaker who lit up any room he entered. Watching how crowds reacted to him, I began to think he might actually place in the top two and get into the runoff election in November.
The primary was on September 11.
I knew it would be a long night, so I was trying to sleep in. My oldest daughter, Kelly, woke me with a call around 9 a.m.
“Dad, turn on the TV. It’s crazy,” she said.
My God, the World Trade Center was under attack, then the Pentagon and then the jet crash in Pennsylvania.
Mayoral elections scheduled in New York and Boston that day were cancelled. But in Detroit the balloting continued.
I drove into downtown Detroit late in the afternoon. It was an eerie, surreal scene. The streets were empty. GM’s towering headquarters, which suddenly reminded me of the Twin Towers, had been vacated of most employees. You couldn’t get within blocks of the Federal Building because of the concrete barriers that had been quickly placed on streets to prevent traffic from entering the perimeter.
Kilpatrick’s campaign party was at the St. Regis Hotel in Detroit’s New Center.
The expected crowd of well-wishers wasn’t there when I arrived a couple hours before polls closed. They slowly began to assemble in the big ballroom.
Giant TV sets had been set up around the room for people to monitor election updates. Instead, people stood silently around them and watched for hours as non-stop replays showed the once mighty towers collapse to their knees and then down for the count.
Kilpatrick won the primary. He delivered his victory speech. His finish line of “We have to come together. Rise up. And start our future. Right here. Right Now,” was the standard conclusion to a Kilpatrick stump speech.
Usually that served to pump up the crowds. But on this night, their thoughts were filled with horrid scenes from New York City.
Kwame’s heart wasn’t really in it either.
Charlie Cain can be reached at 517.887.1275 or via email.