'98 Kaboom 

Some years are better than others. There are years that seem to soar on gossamer wings, taking us to new heights. (OK, I can’t actually remember such a year, but the law of averages says they have to occur now and then.) There are years that are memorable only for mediocrity. And there are years such as this, which, quite frankly, blew big time.

Maybe it was something in El Niño’s tailwind. We can’t say for certain. But there is no doubt that, when you look back on 1998, it becomes apparent that a definite theme has emerged. Mostly we have Bill Clinton to thank. After all, it’s because of him we were inundated early in ’98 with news about BJs in the Oval Office, and also because of him we were blowing the hell out of Iraq once more to close the year out.

But it wasn’t only nationally that we saw this trend. The same theme surfaced on a statewide and local level as well.

So here, if you will, is a blow-by-blow account of some of the year’s big events.

The biggest blow, of course, was the blowing up of the venerable Hudson’s building. All 2.2 million square feet of that sucker came tumbling down in a matter of seconds — after months and months of predemolition work on a building that was so solidly constructed it almost defied attempts to destroy it.

And, despite the months of planning and preparation, the job didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. Tried taking a ride on the People Mover lately? Still no word from the city when the damage caused by falling debris will be repaired, or how much it will cost to fix.

And we still have months of rubble-hauling ahead. After that, there is a giant hole in the heart of downtown that needs to be filled. Still no word on that, either. There is a history in this town of tearing down historic structures, with city money being used to back promises of better things to come. Things that have a nasty habit of not appearing.

If that happens with the Hudson’s site, it will be a real blow to the city.

The other big news this year was the state election, which saw Democrats getting blown away. John Engler — a man who defies the laws of physics by simultaneously blowing and sucking — blew away Democratic challenger Geoffrey Fieger. A blowhard of monumental proportions, Fieger said all the right progressive things, but even diehard lefties couldn’t get past the fear that the guy is a loose cannon capable of blowing completely apart at any moment. And so Fieger went down in flames, pulling most of the Democratic ticket along with him. The only bright spot for the state’s Dems was Jennifer Granholm, who managed to win election as attorney general. Otherwise, the political landscape was strewn with Democratic carcasses. Along with holding on to the governor’s office and the Michigan Senate, Engler’s minions also took back the state House and captured the Supreme Court as well — meaning there will be nothing to obstruct the state’s right-wing juggernaut.

Politically speaking, things can’t blow worse than that.

In Detroit, Mayor Dennis Archer has done his usual fine job of licking his finger and sticking it in the air to see which way the political wind is blowing. While his party struggled to keep from being massacred, he made himself all but invisible, except to appear in a commercial with two of the state’s leading anti-environmentalists — Engler and political soulmate Sen. Spence Abraham — to tout a bond measure that will continue helping polluters off the hook. That, coupled with his leadership role in the fight against environmental justice and his refusal to conduct environmental impact reports before pursuing some major projects, pretty much blows any chance Archer has of legitimately claiming to be a good greenie.

Otherwise, the mayor spent much of the year blowing off the city’s neighborhood groups as he continued pushing big-ticket projects being propped up with taxpayer money. The private-sector portion of funding for the new baseball stadium finally came through (with most of it coming from an economically ravaged Japan — go figure), and word recently broke that Comerica bought naming rights to the new facility. But its only public money getting pumped into the project so far. Keep your eyes on this ball.

On the business front, General Motors suffered a huge blow to its bottom line when strikes at two Flint parts plants led to the layoffs of more than 200,000 workers and lost profits of more than $2.2 billion. Elsewhere in the auto industry, a lot of smoke-blowing about the "merger" between Daimler and Chrysler couldn’t conceal that one of America’s "Big Three" is now owned by the Germans.

One good thing that did happen was that, despite a lot of smoke-blowing on the part of Detroit Edison, environmentalists managed to keep the Conners Creek power plant from being reopened. Then there was a push from area environmentalists that helped persuade the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to finally take a pro-environmental action and prohibit developers from building houses on an environmental easement at Humbug Marsh. A third victory was the granting of American Heritage River status to the Detroit River, which appears to be helping to revive long-stalled cleanup efforts.

Mediawise, the biggest blow came when Robin Hardin, the only real breath of fresh air on the local talk radio scene, was blown off the air at WCHB for refusing to follow the party line when it came to casinos. Hardin repeatedly refused orders to keep away from the subject, and finally pushed management over the edge when she started talking about a Metro Times exposé of the consequences of City Council’s rush to judgment when pressed by the mayor to approve his casino selections and riverfront site by his deadline.

In other media news, we here at the Metro Times were pretty much blown away by the surprise announcement that our owners, Ron Williams and Laura Markham, were selling this paper. They’ll be taking their hard-earned cash and blowing town for good when the sale closes, probably sometime in January.

By then, we’ll all have gladly blown out the candles on this year and started lighting up things anew in ’99.

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