The nightmare scenario

Dec 4, 2002 at 12:00 am

What did she know?
And when did she know it?

Imagine this scenario: Sometime this winter, as Gov. Jennifer Granholm struggles to cope with the immense state budget deficit, the indictments start rolling in.

That’s not likely to be fiction. The feds are finally after her political godfather, Wayne County Executive and political boss Ed McNamara, who looked like an elderly turtle caught in the headlights of a semi on Nov. 22, the day his palace was invaded by federal and state investigators. State troopers and FBI agents swooped down on the Wayne County Courthouse and grabbed every piece of paper they could.

Those named as “persons of interest” included David Katz, who managed Detroit Metropolitan Airport and then went on to manage Granholm’s campaign for governor. Three key McNamara aides were summoned to testify before a grand jury in what clearly seems to be a probe, years overdue, of the way the county has awarded contracts to political donors or to friends who didn’t have to bid on them. That Jennifer Granholm’s husband received consulting contracts of this nature is well-known.

Now it needs to be said that — so far — neither the governor-elect nor her longtime mentor, Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan, has been mentioned as a target, nor have any of their papers been subpoenaed nor their offices searched.

It also should be remembered that Harry S. Truman, perhaps the most honest president of modern times, was given his start in politics by Kansas City’s corrupt Pendergast machine, which needed a clean front man in the U.S. Senate.

And it should be noted that for years and years all sorts of knowledgeable people told me that Detroit Mayor Coleman Young was going to be indicted any day, and it never happened, though some of those around him ended up in the slam.

Still — again, the question is bound to be the one Sen. Howard Baker asked during the Watergate hearings, the question that, in the end, brought Richard Nixon down.

What did she know and when did she know it?

For four years, Jennifer Granholm was county corporation counsel, in effect, the McNamara administration’s house lawyer.

You can bet the feds wouldn’t have done what they did unless they thought they had something. McNamara and Co. have been doing business the same way for a long time, and from 1994 to 1998, Granholm was in charge of the legality of those contracts.

What is not clear is where the investigation will go. But you can bet some smelt will be offered immunity if they can deliver the walleyes. If the federal artillery takes dead aim at Katz, it will be very interesting to see if he sings telling songs.

Even if this never touches the governor, it is bound to make her life more complicated. For one thing, some of her old Wayne County cronies who were expecting state jobs are suddenly radioactive dead meat.

“They were talking to me about a job in communications, but what can I do now?” a friend wailed to me last week. “I was supposed to call David Katz, but I can’t have my number appear on his cell phone records.”

Incidentally, there had been a lot of talk about Katz replacing the somewhat moth-eaten Mark Brewer as head of the Michigan Democratic Party. Ain’t gonna happen now.

At the very least, this isn’t going to help Granholm get her bearings as governor. Through no fault of her own, she takes office New Year’s Day facing an enormous budget deficit for fiscal 2004, and built-in fiscal problems for years after that.

She has to balance that budget fast, and do it with a solidly Republican Legislature which is determined not to raise taxes, and which, in any event, has no desire to do her any favors. Her power to sway them won’t be helped if there is a suspicion that she is about to be linked or possibly even indicted in connection with the Wayne County mess.

Incidentally — why did all this go down now, so close to when McNamara leaves office, and after his boys have had a lot of time to, if necessary, clean or destroy files?

The feds aren’t talking — for the record, anyway. But some things are clear. Until last year, the U.S. district attorney was one Saul Green, whose previous job had been … McNamara’s corporation counsel. No great urge to investigate the family firm there.

Last year, however, President Bush appointed a fast-rising star, Jeffrey Collins, a rare African-American Republican DA, to replace Green. He owed nothing to McNamara, and sources say his appointment was when Big Ed decided to finally retire.

Chances are Collins might have gone after Eddie Mac earlier, but his office has been a little busy with the war on terror. There was also another problem; the state police were involved in the investigation, and their ultimate boss was Jennifer Granholm.

It is reasonable to assume that they feared a leak that might have tipped off McNamara before the raid. It is also reasonable to assume that, if the raid had come before the election, that Granholm might have charged that it was a politically motivated move by a Republican prosecutor who sought to influence the election.

So they waited until the returns were in, then moved. The next few moves will be theirs as well, while the rest of us watch and wait, and listen for dropping shoes.

Strange fruit: Will Granholm’s problems be compounded by the fact that for the first time in a half century the attorney general is a Republican? Well, maybe … or maybe not. Mike Cox’s current boss is Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan, and the two can’t say enough good about each other. What a country.

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