A hijacking at the airport

I haven’t yet been to the new airport terminal, which is being endlessly described as the greatest creation of man, or something like that, by the usual local media.

And I am sure that’s exactly how it seems to anyone who has never been to any other airport than Detroit Metropolitan, without a doubt the worst airport I ever have been in. True, Haiti’s was a little dirtier, if I remember correctly, but also more efficient.

Florida Ed McNamara and his gaggle have been running the show out there for well over a decade, providing shoddy service to the public and sweetheart deals to cronies. Now Northwest has created a vast new terminal. And wonder of wonders: To wax poetic, it seems that it doesn’t suck. Yet, anyway.

How did they manage that? I asked one of local print journalism’s more savvy and honest editors after he toured the $1.2 billion new complex, which McNamara, with his usual class, has caused to be named after himself.

“Simple,” my source said with a grin. Northwest, he said, told Wayne County flatly that McNamara’s Band wasn’t going to mess with the design, construction, anything — or the airline was outta here.

Earlier this year, McNamara suddenly discovered he’d had enough of running the county, and decided he was outta here too. The fact that an aggressive new U.S. attorney in town owed him nothing may have been the purest coincidence.

Yet no matter the reason, the thought of losing both Surfer Ed and our kinder, gentler, term-limited governor was reason enough for anyone (not under threat of indictment) to want to live to 2003.

But we were forgetting all those movies we’ve seen about the undead, who, no matter how thoroughly pulverized, have a way of coming back up through the turf until that last silver stake goes through their hearts. And what these two creatures are now trying to do to us makes biting the neck of an occasional virgin look harmless.

Last week, Engler and McNamara announced they had made a private, secret deal to keep control of the airport after they leave office.

Under their unholy alliance, Eddie would get to appoint a majority four members out of a new, seven-member board, which would run the airport. His Rotundity would appoint two. The Wayne County commissioners, the countywide elected legislature, would get to appoint a meaningless single board member.

U.S. Rep. David Bonior got it: “The deal ensures Ed McNamara will control the airport after he leaves office. It ensures the continuation of cronyism, nepotism and irregular contracting procedures. Major agreements that affect the public should be conducted in public, not in secret rooms with two power brokers.”

Jim Blanchard, who, like Bonior, wants the Democratic nomination for governor, was more circumspect, but not much. “I don’t have all the details, but this agreement appears to maintain the status quo (control by McNamara). That isn’t acceptable.”

If the idea of an airport authority of this type does make sense, Blanchard told me, it certainly shouldn’t take effect till next year, giving the newly elected governor and the new county executive the right to put their own people on the board.

But what about the woman many think is most likely to win the Democratic nomination in August, Jennifer Granholm, the state attorney general?

“I’d have to look at it. It might depend on how long the terms are,” she told me during an interview Friday. Naturally, I might have known. McNamara is her political godfather. Nobody ever heard of Granholm until Big Ed made her Wayne County corporation counsel in 1994. Thanks to a weak opponent and McNamara’s massive support, she managed to be elected attorney general four years ago.

Undoubtedly, she loves the new airport deal. After all, Granholm, who moved from California to Michigan in the mid-’80s, was the county’s lawyer when many of the sweetheart contracts were renewed. Her husband gets consulting contracts from the county all the time — even now, contracts nobody else is even allowed to bid for.

What she wants most of all is for any talk of an investigation of Detroit Metropolitan Airport to go away. Not that she’s, ahem, pushing it hard.

Under heavy political pressure, she feebly asked the Michigan State Police last month to review the way contracts were let at the airport — proclaiming her firm belief in the county gang’s innocence as she did so. We’ll look more intently at her candidacy down the road. Regardless — this slimy deal to create the airport authority can be stopped relatively easily.

First, the Legislature must approve creation of the authority. And unless two-thirds of the lawmakers vote to give the authority immediate effect, the first appointees won’t be named till three months after we’re rid of Fast Eddie and Fat Johnny.

So call up or write your own local legislators and tell them not to vote for this atrocity. If I haven’t convinced you, let the words of Engler and McNamara themselves do it for you.

“The proposed authority will have full control over the airports (Metro and Willow Run) and their facilities,” they boasted. Anyone who has ever flown out of Metro before, or tried to park there before, or had to eat there, should know what that means.

Oh, there will be an “audit committee” with the authority to look into abuses. An audit committee made up of the puppets Ed and Johnny appoint. Please.

Whatever else you think about him, you have to admire McNamara’s sheer brazenness. The deal is a good thing, he actually told humans, because otherwise, the badly mismanaged airport might be taken over by the state.

Wayne County Commissioner Susan Hubbard loved that. McNamara created the reasons the state might take the airport away, “now he’s going to steal it,” she said.

Yes, indeed he will. But only if we let him.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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