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Chad Selweski

Chad Selweski

Rebel Candidate

March 9, 2018

On the campaign trail in suburban Detroit, Andy Levin avoids a sales pitch to voters based on his perhaps perfect pedigree for a 9th Congressional District that remains solidly Democratic.

He is the son of longtime Democratic Congressman Sandy Levin, who is retiring from the 9th District seat at the end of the year, and the nephew of another fixture in Michigan Democratic politics – Carl Levin, who served in the U.S. Senate for decades.

Yet, as he pursues his dad’s seat in Congress, Andy Levin doesn’t seem particularly interested in being labeled as chapter three in the Levin legacy.

“I am not my dad. I am running as Andy Levin,” he told a group of Macomb County voters earlier this week. “I am … quite the rebel.”

Though the 57-year-old doesn’t look the part, the younger Levin seems determined to run, to some extent, based on passions from his past, which resulted in several arrests in the 1980s for civil disobedience while participating in protests supporting oppressed people in South Africa, Haiti and Tibet, and other liberal causes. 

He’s not a member of the Democrats’ #Resistance movement, though he’s done a whole lot more resisting in his life than most in the new generation of left-wingers in the Democratic Party. As a young man in college and law school, he said, his heroes were not politicians, they were 20th century icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

In his pursuit of the 9th District nomination, Levin supports a substantially higher minimum wage, universal health care for all, and a “bottom-up” economic policy that ends “unfair” trade practices. But his focus on protecting human rights abroad is not a typical 2018 agenda item.

A “Hell Raiser”

While soft-spoken Sandy Levin served as a solid liberal throughout his 36 years in the House, his son emphasizes his “hell raising” abilities if elevated to Capitol Hill as the Levin family successor.

The Bloomfield Township Democrat faces two formidable intra-party opponents, State Sen. Steve Bieda of Warren and former State Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton of Huntington Woods, plus darkhorse contender Martin Brook, a former Bloomfield Hills school board member.

The winner of the August Democratic primary will almost certainly emerge as a shoo-in come November. But this is also a district populated with traditional blue-collar voters. It remains to be seen if the most liberal candidate in the field can win the primary.

At times, it sounds as though Levin is not only running to the left of his election opponents, he stands to the left of ultraliberal champion Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on some issues and perhaps matches the leftist tone of one of Levin’s most loyal supporters, former Congressman David Bonior, a staunch liberal leader of the House Democrats in the 1990s when he represented most of Macomb County.

Levin is counting on the “true believers” within the remnants of Bonior’s grassroots network of allies to neutralize Bieda’s advantage in his home territory of Macomb County, which comprises a majority of the 9th District.

Over the past week, Levin and Bonior jointly appeared at several Macomb events as Bonior promotes his newest book, “Whip,” an autobiographical look at his 30 years in politics. At a small meet-and-greet event in Mount Clemens on Tuesday, with about two dozen people in attendance, the former lawmaker offered a full-throated endorsement of Levin, praising his energetic support for “economic and social justice.”

The two met more than a decade ago while working for a national group devoted to workers’ rights and expanding the ranks of organized labor. A former union organizer, Levin told those on hand at the Mount Clemens library that he is a rebel with a cause — his top priority in Washington would center on strengthening federal labor laws to grow the middle class. Past Democratic presidents who presided over a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate failed in that regard, Levin said pointedly.

Criticizes Carter, Clinton and Obama

“Jimmy Carter had it. Bill Clinton had it. Barack Obama had it. None were willing to put their political life on the line to provide the most basic needs of workers, which is to make them free to form their own (unionized) organizations and to have a voice at the bargaining table,” the candidate said.

Yet, it is State Sen. Bieda who has racked up early union endorsements – from the Michigan Association of Police Organizations, the Warren Police Officers Association, the UA Detroit Plumbers Local 98 in Madison Heights and most recently the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 411, which represents the majority of Macomb County government workers which could blunt Levin’s pro-labor rhetoric at this early stage. Levin insists that he will have a list of labor leaders’ backing him as the August primary approaches.

At the same time, the congressman’s son presents himself as a mix of the old and new in the lineage of the Michigan Democratic Party. He emphasizes three nuanced features of his resume: Policy analyst and consultant to the Clinton administration’s Labor Department, including staff attorney for President Clinton’s Labor Law Reform Commission; served for four years as director of the Michigan labor department in the Granholm administration and created a successful worker training program; and in recent years, operated in the private sector, forming a company specializing in public-private partnerships that renovate buildings with an emphasis on renewable energy upgrades.

With his amiable personality, and as an activist leader at his Jewish temple, Levin doesn’t fit the mold of a firebrand like Sanders. In fact, he has stayed away from the intra-party splits in Michigan between leftist and establishment folks that have been exacerbated by the Dem field of candidates for governor.

“All this talk about divisions, I don’t go for all of that stuff. I think it’s a bunch of hooey,” he said. “I’m as progressive as they come, but I am also very practical. I’m about uniting the Bernie and Hillary (Clinton) wings of the party.”

So, is he bridging gaps, or riding fences? Levin’s been an insider and an outsider — What about now?

“It’s better to have someone on the inside,” he said, “who believes in those on the outside.”

A freelance writer from Macomb County, Chad Selweski was the political reporter at The Macomb Daily for nearly 30 years. At the Daily he earned 50 journalism awards and in 2014 he was named by Politico as one of the “Media Stars” in seven political battleground states. He can be reached at

March 8, 2018 · Filed under Chad Selweski

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Matthew Abel // Mar 9, 2018 at 9:29 am

    What is Andy Levin’s position on legalization of marijuana? 61% of the people now support repealing the prohibition on marijuana. Any true progressive would be out front on this issue.

  • 2 Jen Eyer // Mar 11, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    Here’s what Andy recently said on the issue:

    “Voters in state after state have decriminalized pot for medical and recreational use. The war on drugs has been a disaster for this country. Let’s take charge in Washington and regulate pot like alcohol across the USA.”

  • 3 harvey bronstein // Mar 11, 2018 at 10:26 pm

    David Bonior was very pro-life and pro-gun. I don’t think that made him a liberal.

  • 4 Jen Eyer // Mar 13, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Andy is pro-legalization. Here’s what he said in response to Sessions on Jan. 5: “Jeff Sessions made a big mistake in reversing federal policy to go after marijuana users. Voters in state after state have decriminalized pot for medical and recreational use. The war on drugs has been a disaster for this country. Let’s take charge in Washington and regulate pot like alcohol across the USA.”

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