You asked for it

Aug 16, 2000 at 12:00 am
Anything bothering you about Detroit Metropolitan Airport? Well, forget about it. Things may well get worse, and complaining will be useless. Wayne County voters (mostly by not voting) just gave the political boss in charge of the mess legal oversight over it.

That would be Mike Duggan, elected Wayne County prosecutor last week after a thuggish campaign so vile he even provoked WXYZ-TV’s extremely mild-mannered Chuck Stokes into asking him on the air about his racist radio ads.

Most of the voters, naturally, didn’t bother to vote, and the vast majority of those who showed up at the polls didn’t want Duggan, who got 38 percent. The two major black candidates, both of whom called Duggan the worst possible choice, got a combined 81,362 votes to his 59,709. The thoroughly decent assistant chief prosecutor, George Ward, who is white, agreed; he got another 11,548, and will now be fired. (Another 3,775 went to a little-known black woman who drew almost entirely from McPhail.)

Yet Duggan won, thanks to pouring $1 million into the campaign, mostly in its final days, much of which came from county contractors. For years Duggan, the 41-year-old son of a federal judge, has run Wayne County, bullying subordinates and anyone he wanted anything from. This was praised by his shills as evidence of his superior "managerial strengths," many of which were shared by Joe Stalin. (The elected county executive, the aged Ed McNamara, has increasingly done his job by eating donuts, cutting ribbons, and wintering in Florida.)

Sharon McPhail ought to have won this race, given that Ward had insufficient funds and political skills to wage a competitive campaign. Not only was she well qualified, having been a division chief in the prosecutor’s office; she campaigned with more restraint and dignity than before, and said she’d keep George on as deputy.

Yet money and pressure talked. Two people — including one newspaper reporter — told me they received calls from county workers on county time lobbying them to support Duggan. Virgil Smith, who ran and made decent showings twice before, did well enough to prevent McPhail from winning. (Interestingly, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, who supported Smith, proved to have no clout at all.)

Naturally, you’d expect now that he is to be prosecutor, the new man would reassure us, however unconvincingly, that he will be an utterly impartial enforcer of the laws, etc. Ho, ho. He told his leading shill, the Free Press, "O’Hair’s office has hounded the McNamara administration on the airport issue," and this would now stop, ja wohl.

Well, Flint’s Bishop Airport and Toledo Express aren’t that far away, and it is sometimes easier to park at them even if your flight is at Metro. The real tragedy is the Wayne County prosecutor’s office, ethically beyond reproach since John O’Hair took over in 1983, has been turned over to the machine. We may be decades finding out the full import of what that means, though Macomb County may offer asylum to a selected few. Incidentally, if you don’t like any of this, thank the nonvoters. Detroit blacks often whine about being "disenfranchised," as when the public schools were taken over by the state Legislature. Near as I can tell, something like 80 percent of those eligible didn’t bother to vote last week. They have no one to blame but themselves.

By the way, the concept that the highest law enforcement officials ought to be a bit above the fray was set back further by media darling and Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, who openly supported Duggan. That’s not terribly surprising, given that she also owes her existence to the McNamara machine, but considerably dismaying. She, as you may know, is the media choice for the Democratic candidate for governor next year, partly because the Democrats don’t have anybody else, but being the only statewide officeholder who is not plug-ugly helps too. Stay tuned.

Eat your heart out, Boss Tweed: Overshadowed by the hoopla over the prosecutor’s race was another McNamara triumph in the Wayne County clerk’s race: The narrow win by Cathy Garrett, an inexperienced relative of a union official, over Veronica Massey, the longtime deputy backed by outgoing clerk Teola Hunter. To be fair, the decent and dignified incumbent didn’t help the process by waiting till the last minute to announce she wasn’t running, even though she knew she wasn’t in shape for the job. (Hunter is still plagued by injuries suffered in a bad auto accident last year.) Generally speaking, the county clerk, who is in charge of elections, is someone we never hear about unless things go badly wrong. Perhaps Teola’s best legacy is that she managed to keep a low profile throughout years of service. We’ll see what happens now.

Death of the Reform Party: Normally this isn’t the place for kind words about Pat Buchanan, but here it goes, folks: The Potomac brawler deserves to be recognized as the probably last-ever candidate of the party Ross Perot bought, and should get the $12.5 million in federal campaign funds to waste. He legitimately fought for its nomination, left the GOP to do so, and has a consistent, if totally wrongheaded, worldview which combines all the bad impulses of all the parties. Plus he’s good theater; finding a zany black woman who respects the Confederate flag as running mate was the perfect touch. John Hagelin, a sort of New Age physics professor, already has his own Natural Law Party, under which he ran for president four years ago, and failed to excite even hard-core readers of the Whole Earth Catalog. He now only wants the Reform nomination because of the bucks. He should instead offer to serve as Secretary of Wetlands under President Ralph Nader, and till then write a politics column for Phenomenews. Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]