After winnowing out more than 5,000 questionable signatures, the Michigan Green Partystill had some 52,500 names to turn into the state last week. With only 30,272 valid signatures needed to qualify the party and its candidates for the November ballot, it looks as if progressives will have a true alternative choice this year when they go into the voting booth.

But don’t light any victory stogies just yet. Democrats, fearful of GP presidential candidate Ralph Nader playing spoiler for Al Gore here in Michigan, could still mount an aggressive challenge and turn their lawyers loose on the submitted signatures.

Adding some controversy to the whole affair was Tom Ness’ announcement last week that he was abandoning his U.S. Senate run to instead battle longtime Democratic incumbent Rep. Sandy Levin for his 12th Congressional District seat.

Ness has been open about the possibility that he would withdraw from the Senate campaign if he could reach a negotiated settlement with the Dems — the prime concession being their promise not to challenge the GP’s petition signatures, thereby virtually guaranteeing Nader a place on the ballot. Doing so might cost Al Gore votes, but at least the state’s Dems wouldn’t have to worry about their Senate candidate, Debbie Stabenhow, losing crucial votes to Ness and, in the process, letting the chance to unseat Sen. Spence Abraham slip away.

But, despite some press reports to the contrary, Ness swore to News Hits that there was no negotiated withdrawal. The decision, he says, was unilateral, with no deal struck.

“My wife, Sue, said she would move out of the house, at least until after November, if I continued to run for the Senate,” explained Ness.

And that, he said, pretty much settled the issue. The combination of trying to build a foundation for the Green Party in southeast Michigan, gather enough signatures to get on the ballot (Sue alone collected more than 4,000 names), and mount a serious Senate campaign has really taken its toll, said Ness. There’s just too much chaos. They still have their Jam Rag music magazine to put out, after all. Plus, the thought of participating in one of the country’s most closely watched contests never sat quite right with Tom.

The congressional run, though still a considerable undertaking, will not be nearly as hectic as the statewide effort required to campaign for the Senate. And so, for the sake of their mental health, financial stability and marital harmony, News Hits is happy for the Nesses.

Now the Green Party is looking for someone else to run against Stabenow and Abraham.

Monday afternoon Ness issued the following e-mail message:

“Attorney Matthew Abel, a great friend of mine and a person for whom I have terrific respect, is now officially testing the waters as our Green U.S. Senate candidate. This follows my personal efforts to recruit him. I heartily give Mr. Abel my endorsement. Please contact him immediately … with your opinions about whether he should officially declare his candidacy.

“He is much better prepared than I was for the U.S. Senate campaign, and he will make a wonderful candidate for us all,” wrote Ness, adding, “I hope this once and for all ices any rumors about a deal between the Greens and Democrats! It just never happened, despite what you read in the papers.”

Another name that came up briefly over the weekend, said Ness, was none other than that of MT political columnist Jack Lessenberry.

Visions of Norman Mailer running for mayor of New York? Alas, no. Lessenberry, it seems, is much happier slinging barbs at pols than he would be begging for votes at the polls.

“If the Green Party does nominate me I will actively campaign against myself,” laughed the Jackster.

Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or cguyette@metrotimes.com

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