You don't schmooze, you lose 

A trip to Mackinac Island is a trip back in time, a sensory kaleidoscope.

The picturesque harbor and flawlessly kept village comprise a life-scale diorama of Victorian rectitude and enterprise. The water of the straits is clear, cold and pristine. The air is so fresh and crisp it almost hurts to breathe it. The immaculate green lawns, tidy flower gardens and wooded vistas unleash a riot of colors and fragrances. There are no automobiles on Mackinac, Michigan’s sacred and historic playground. Tourists and residents either walk, bicycle or ride in carriages drawn by massive draft horses whose clip-clopping hooves echo across the landscape.

It’s such a fairy tale setting, so unreal, that the cynic in me finds it apropos that the Detroit Regional Chamber has been fleeing the city for its annual Leadership Conference on Mackinac for decades.

Bigwigs and wannabes by the hundreds forsake the gritty urban bustle for the isle’s aptly named Grand Hotel. There, they debate grave issues of the day, eat succulent meals, and drink and schmooze to their heart’s content. Business cards and air kisses are the official currencies of the Mackinac conference.

There are other, less quaint vestiges as well. All the waiters at the Grand Hotel are black men from Jamaica. And the ubiquitous droppings deposited on the paved streets by the horses appear to be the exclusive province of Latinos. They wander about with shovels, brooms and carts to remove the offending manure.

Aspiring governors and other politicians were thick as thieves and, fortuitously, one of them had the chutzpah to shatter the air of gentility.

During a happy hour reception at which gubernatorial contenders from both parties spoke, state Sen. Joe Schwarz prefaced his remarks with an apologia. “After all you’ve sat through today, this must seem like death by bullshit,” quipped Schwarz, a Republican. He immediately had the assembled wine-swillers eating out of his hand.

Schwarz, who once worked for the CIA, engineered John McCain’s primary victory in Michigan in 2000. The plucky physician from Battle Creek appears to have adopted McCain’s “straight-talk” persona. He spoke eloquently, directly and authoritatively about the budget problems facing Michigan, something none of the other contenders did (or, perhaps, could do) with efficacy.

“The next governor will be a four-year governor,” Schwarz said, “because the decisions are going to be so difficult.

“Being governor of Michigan is not rocket science; it’s common sense.”

By contrast, GOP favorite son Dick Posthumus was positively Quaylesque. He stood and held the microphone stiffly, with all the charisma of a floor lamp from Kmart, and spouted platitudes. He apparently has no grasp of the perils of double entendre. He called his wife, Pam, “my greatest asset.” He vowed to “deliver the school district back to the people of Detroit — because they deserve it!” In proclaiming his environmental credentials, he announced, “I was born in the outdoors!”

Political satirist Mark Russell would later lampoon the lieutenant governor, imagining the dialogue in the wake of his election:

“Who’s your governor?


“Yeah, but who’s your governor?”

If Michigan Republicans have any sense — or any hope of retaining the governor’s seat — they’ll dump Dick and jump to Joe. Posthumus has no chance against any of the three Dems arrayed against him.

The precocity displayed by Jennifer Granholm, the purported Democratic front-runner, almost defies credibility. When she wants to sound sincere, the attorney general scrunches her voice to a pixie timbre and dips at the knees and even grabs a shock of her fine coiffure in faux earnestness. She is a human inflection. I thought I was watching a soliloquy from The Glass Menagerie.

She preached unity and tolerance to the pro-business congregation. She suggested that there is room under her tent for “moderate” Republicans.

I was so transfixed by her performance I only wrote down one complete sentence: “I want people to be attracted to Detroit, not repelled.”

What more, really, need anyone know?

David Bonior and Jim Blanchard are even more polished — to a glossy, confident sheen. They are witty, comfortable, seamless and seemingly devoid of contrivance, old and able hands at the fine art of oratory.

Bonior wants to redevelop Detroit while curbing sprawl. He sounded his mantra of “Build in, not out.”

Blanchard said, “I’m tired of Michigan being the pothole capital of America.”

Watching Granholm, Bonior and Blanchard — all attractive, capable, even gifted pols — it occurred to me that the Democratic Party in Michigan must find a way to spread its talent and better deploy its human capital. These three will beat each other up in the primary, and two of them will suffer in obscurity thereafter.

Of course, if Joe Schwarz has his way, all three of them will be unemployed.

He hosted a fundraiser Saturday night at Horn’s Gaslight Bar. Schwarz bought all the booze, so the place soon turned into a veritable hive of Chamber of Commerce debauchery — if such a thing is possible.

Clad in a chambray shirt and khakis, Schwarz leapt onstage with the musicians of Fossil Circus — a swell cover band out of Pontiac — and pounded a tambourine like a man possessed. He shook his senatorial booty in the pulsing mosh pit and took up a collection to keep the band cranking right up until 2 a.m.

I asked him what his opponents, all snugly tucked in their Victorian trundle beds, would think of his antics.

“It doesn’t matter,” Schwarz said. “I don’t care.”

Jeremy Voas is editor of Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]

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