Shiny in a gold dress, Aretha Franklin sits at a corner table in a third-floor cocktail lounge in downtown Detroit’s Ford Field. A handful of fans fawn over the Queen of Soul as she graciously poses for pictures.
But tonight, Franklin is not the main event. The growing crowd waits anxiously for Michigan’s new empress, Jennifer Granholm.
It’s Saturday night and the third and final inaugural ball in honor of the state’s long-awaited Democratic ruler after 12 years of Republican reign.
Tickets are $150. Your intrepid reporters drool past the crystalline martini bar and trays of venison skewers, whitefish on crackers and ice cream cone sundaes to give you the scoop.
We chat up Franklin.
“What one thing do you want Granholm to achieve while in office?”
The laid-back diva considers the question. “One thing? One thing?” muses Franklin. “Twelve years!”
Granholm enters from the right flank. She wears blue taffeta, her hair piled in tight curls. She looks stunning. As is her custom, she takes a minute to chat with everyone. She excitedly tells of a conference her husband, Dan Mulhern, organized earlier in the day to discuss men in nontraditional roles. She says it was great, we shoulda been there.
She continues her tour of the crowd, winking at a middle-aged woman and giving her a hug. The Eaton County resident is Martha Finn, a Granholm campaign volunteer. Granholm’s campaign was Finn’s first.
“Actually, I’m a Republican,” whispers Finn. But when she heard Granholm talk about her commitment to mentoring young girls, the former teacher was sold.
Granholm continues to buzz about the roomful of tuxedos and sparkling dresses. Jazz filters through the noise and laughter. Glasses tinkle with ice. Plates heap with hummus, fish, brie and crackers.
When Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick arrives, giddy women push their way toward him. Detroit’s mayor seems to be having the most fun, doling backslaps and smiles.
One woman gives him a big squeeze, shrieking in a voice altered by one too many cocktails, “Oh my God, did you get taller? Oh, you look so nice!”
Kilpatrick ambles toward the new state Senate majority leader, Ken Sikkema.
He shakes the small man’s white hand and congratulates him on his new job. The amiable leader thanks Kilpatrick, who can’t resist teasing the Grand Rapids Republican about his appearance in Detroit.
“You should come down here more often,” quips the friendly giant. “You look relaxed.”
When we ask Sikkema why he is celebrating a Democratic victory, Kilpatrick laughs and says, “Uh-oh, it’s the media,” and quickly retreats into the crowd. The senator is left to account for himself.
“I have to be here. No, I want to be here,” says Sikkema.
A good number of Republicans have turned out for the event, he says. He talks about how the future of Detroit is “critical” and says he “always” feels “energized” when in the city, and looks forward to working with Kilpatrick and Granholm.
Kilpatrick tells us he’s also looking forward to working with Granholm. When he was MIA for her Lansing inauguration, some speculated that their relationship was on the rocks.
Kilpatrick says the rumors are “totally not true” and “blown out of proportion.”
The Granholm-Kilpatrick relationship festered last fall after the press got hold of a now-infamous draft memo in which Kilpatrick demanded money and favors for Detroit from Granholm in exchange for a Detroit campaign in her favor.
Kilpatrick says that the media made a fuss about his Jan. 1 inaugural no-show because “It’s sexy to put it out there.” Says he: “I’m excited she’s governor … This is a unique moment in history to really make revolutionary change.”
Detroit City Councilwoman Maryann Mahaffey says she thinks Granholm’s plans are “brilliant,” but it doesn’t mean she wants to watch the new governor hustle to Stevie Wonder’s “My Eyes Don’t Cry.” The tiny, white-haired Mahaffey takes in the rocking bash. The music thumps as Granholm and Kilpatrick hold hands and bop to the live band.
“Ugh, God,” grunts Mahaffey. “I don’t need loud music to make my body jump.”
As the dancing crowd swells, Harrison Blackmond, a business partner of Granholm’s husband, beams as he watches the couple let loose. The husky fellow with a salt-and-pepper beard takes a turn on the floor. The average age of the booty-shaking crowd must be 50.
Kilpatrick shouts a special invite: “I know there are a few Republicans here tonight. Let your hair down and have fun!” That’s a challenge for some, like the new Republican state Attorney General Mike Cox, who smugly tells us, “I reserve my hustles for weddings.” Just as well. He may not have been able to keep up with 80-year-old U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon Keith.
Keith dances beside Granholm, a former law clerk for the iconic civil rights jurist.
As they groove the night away, our feet are as sore as our ears. It’s 10 p.m. and time to go home. Granholm may want to do the same. For when the feasting and festivities come to a close, Cinderella will wake to a sobering reality: a $1.5 billion state budget deficit to clean up. On the other hand, maybe she should grab a stiff drink.Lisa M. Collins and Ann Mullen are Metro Times staff writers. Send comments to [email protected]