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Jack Lessenberry

Essay/Analysis: Political Commentator

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A Detroit native, Jack originally intended to become a historian, but recognized that he wanted to become a journalist during his graduate studies at the University of Michigan.  Since then, he has accumulated nearly forty years of journalism experience in every medium from newspapers to the internet. Jack has worked as a foreign correspondent and executive national editor of The Detroit News, and he has written for many national and regional publications, including Vanity Fair, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe.

Currently, in addition to his work at Michigan Radio, he is head of journalism at Wayne State University and a contributing editor and columnist for The Metro Times, Dome Magazine, The Traverse-City Record Eagle, and The Toledo Blade, where he also serves as ombudsman, and hosts the weekly public affairs program "Deadline Now"  on WGTE-TV in Toledo.

Among his favorite memories are of interviewing Gerald Ford about Watergate in 1995 and winning a national Emmy for a documentary about Jack Kevorkian in 1994.

On a personal note, Jack mostly stopped watching TV -- except for documentaries -- when Mr. Ed was canceled, though he admits to a fondness for the crusty old butler on Downton Abbey.

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There’s a belief in some quarters that Detroit does not appreciate its history. The city, which was really a large town before they started making cars a century ago, exploded in size, going from fewer than 300,000 to 1.6 million people in 30 years.

Detroit Public School Distric sign
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools Community District school board has chosen Nikolai Vitti as its first permanent superintendent. Vitti grew up in Dearborn Heights and is currently the superintendent in Duval County, Florida.

Michigan Radio Morning Edition host Doug Tribou and Senior News Analyst Jack Lessenberry discuss what the district's new pick means for Detroit schools. 

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Long ago, way back in, say, the 1980s, there was something quaint about most elections in this country: Candidates did not actually begin running until the year of the election itself. We hold primaries in August and general elections in November, and it was thought that if you declared your candidacy in January, say, that would give you enough time to persuade voters.

I have to admit I was surprised four years ago when Tom Watkins was appointed head of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. When I first knew him, Watkins was state superintendent of schools. That is, until Governor Jennifer Granholm pressed to have him fired for questioning some of her policies.

Prison bars
powelli / Creative Commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A former camp counselor from suburban Detroit was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for taking nude photos of young boys and posting them online. The judge who sentenced 22-year-old Matthew Kuppe said he thought the sentence was too harsh, but Kuppe's plea deal left him with no choice. This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry take a closer look at the case.

They also talk about former state Sen. Virgil Smith's possible bid for a Detroit Council seat, a lawsuit to force state Attorney General Bill Schuette's office to turn over personal emails that discuss public business, and a push to ban  7-day auto insurance plans in Michigan. 

Two summers ago, something happened that gave parents nightmares throughout the Detroit area. A 20-year-old camp counselor at a Jewish community center was discovered to have been secretly photographing little boys naked and posting them on a Russian child porn website.

He also had written vivid fantasy descriptions of doing things to them, though a massive investigation turned up no evidence that he had ever touched a child.

I’ve never met Chris Campbell, an attorney in Traverse City, but I’ve gotten thoughtful emails from him many times over the years. Mr. Campbell, who grew up in Bay City, loves this state. 

LAW
user southerfried / morguefile

You have to feel bad for Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a good and decent man who has the thankless task of heading a party so small it is more like a faction.

Empty classroom
Motown31 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Hundreds of Detroit parents angered by school closure threats are having their kids opt out of the state's M-STEP test. They say the standardized tests are used to justify closures. 

I once saw former State Representative Todd Courser expound on how the welfare state was bad and people needed to take personal responsibility for their lives. Cindy Gamrat, his fellow representative, political soulmate and secret mistress, was nodding vigorously.

Complaining about mythical welfare queens and other so-called predatory poor people is pretty much standard fare for the right wing, and has been, to a greater or lesser degree, since the New Deal.

Less than two weeks ago, President Donald Trump launched his latest Twitter attack on the nation’s most important newspaper, the New York Times. 

Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

An ethics watchdog organization is asking the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate a Twitter battle that broke out between Michigan Congressman Justin Amash and White House staffer Dan Scavino. This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry discuss the group's allegations that Amash violated House rules and Scavino violated the Hatch Act

They also discuss a study that shows an increasingly bleak future for Michigan roads and bridges, legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients, and a report that says roughly $40 million was spent on the state's 14 congressional races in 2016. 

I was listening to one of the dumber stories of the week Thursday, about a Twitter squabble between two Republicans, a White House staffer and Congressman Justin Amash.

State Representative Tom Cochran, a Democrat from the Lansing suburb of Mason, has introduced a “Death with Dignity” act to allow terminally ill people to ask for medication to end their lives. His bill is well-crafted to safeguard against abuses.

Roads
Wikimedia Commons

For a few years, we were constantly hearing about how terrible Michigan’s roads were–and how the legislature kept ignoring citizens’ pleas to fix them.

Then, a couple of years ago, lawmakers did enact what was billed as a road repair package. It doesn’t start providing any new money until this year, but four years from now, it's supposed to generate something like $1.2 billion a year to fix the roads.

Lansing City Hall building
Michigan State Historic Preservation Office / Flickr

Lansing City Council officially designated itself a "sanctuary city." That move follows the Ann Arbor City Council's decision to not have police or city employees ask people about their immigration status. The Trump administration says "sanctuary cities" could lose their federal funding. Morning Edition host Doug Tribou and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about whether that would impact the two communities.

Forty-four years ago, in another early spring, a young lawyer went to the President of the United States and told him, “There's no doubt about the seriousness of the problem we've got. We have a cancer within -- close to the presidency, that's growing. It's growing daily. It's compounding. It grows geometrically now, because it compounds itself.”

User: Nheyob / Wikimedia Commons

State Senator Patrick Colbeck of Canton is sometimes referred to as the “most conservative” or “furthest right” member of the legislature.

Fraser home falling into the sinkhole.
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

A $3 million grant to fix the massive sinkhole in Fraser was at the center of a battle in the state Legislature this week. This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about the fight over the funding, which sparked a row between Macomb County Public Works commissioner Candice Miller and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekoff before ending in a stalemate.

More than twenty years ago, the late Texas Governor Ann Richards addressed the annual Gridron Dinner in Washington, a high-society affair where the nation’s top journalists mingle with politicians and Hollywood celebrities.

The Daily Record / Creative Commons

There’s always a debate as to whether judges should be appointed or elected. The one thing everyone agrees on, at least in theory, is that judges should be nonpartisan.

Michigan has an odd hybrid system that manages to ensure that all these things are both true and false -- especially as far as the State Supreme Court is concerned.

Phil Clark is a hard-working 30-year-old who put himself through Eastern Michigan University, and now manages Ray’s Red Hots, a hot dog restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor that also operates mobile food carts throughout the state.

sign that says flint
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A major lawsuit over the Flint water crisis has been settled. Under the deal, the state will pay for the replacement of 18,000 lead service lines. This Week in Michigan Politics, Morning Edition host Doug Tribou and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about why the deal might set a precedent for other cities.

Half a century ago, when he was still a very young man, Ann Arbor native Phil Power began buying small newspapers. He bought some, started others, and built a thriving enterprise of 64 community newspapers in three states.

Bentley Historical Library / University of Michigan

William G. Milliken, the longest-serving governor in Michigan history, turned 95 yesterday. The weekend before last, a couple other friends and I got together with Milliken and his son for a private little pre-birthday dinner at his home.

The governor – I find it hard to call him anything but that – is recovering from breaking a small bone in his foot, but hasn’t lost his interest in state affairs or his sense of humor.

Paul Ryan
Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Republican US House leaders on Friday withdrew their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill from the floor after it was clear the measure would not have enough votes to pass. This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about whether Gov. Rick Snyder and Healthy Michigan advocates can breath a sigh of relief.

Rian Saunders / Flickr, http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

As you probably know, the Republican Party is in control of all three branches of Michigan government – executive, legislative and judicial. Republicans also control both houses of Congress and the Presidency.

Democrats are, naturally, not happy about this.

Jocelyn Benson stood in line for two hours waiting to vote last November, holding her five-month-old son Aiden all the while. “I had to put him down and change his diaper twice,” she told me, smiling. Benson lives and votes in Detroit, where there are often too few voting places and machines for large turnout elections.

A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Last night I drove almost a hundred miles into Ohio to preside over a discussion with huge implications for Michigan. The topic was the future of Lake Erie, the warmest and shallowest of the Great Lakes and a major source of drinking water for 11 million people.

I was ten when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth fifty-five years ago. We were all mad for science then, and if you’d asked any of the kids I grew up with what we thought life would be like in 2017, we would have been sure we’d have colonies on Mars.

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