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What the hell is he running for?



Detroit’s monopoly newspaper consortium staged an exciting journalistic coup last Sunday, when it led the paper with the skull-popping news that Geoffrey Nels Fieger had "decided" to run for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate next year.

Not only that, but the strength of their local talent is so deep one of their Washington correspondents had to get the scoop, apparently by dialing 11 digits. It is hard to imagine anyone forgetting the dramatic impact of seeing these words in print:

"‘I am going to run,’ said Fieger, a Bloomfield Hills lawyer."

Fact is, the Fieg’s been hinting at taking on Sen. Spencer "Pudge" Abraham, a semiaccidental byproduct of the great Republican avalanche of 1994, since the Bloomfield Hills lawyer was met by electoral reality last November.

Yet the Detroit Newspapers story is interesting in that it manages to accidentally illustrate much of what is wrong with both politics and journalism. Nowhere does this fairly long piece address that minor question ...

What the hell is he running for?

Apparently it occurred to neither the reporter, Dina ElBoghdady, nor Big Daddy Geoffrey to say why he wanted to be senator, what he would seek to accomplish for the state, country or world, or even what his positions are on the wool tariff.

Nope, we got none of that, nor do we even have much proof he is a formal candidate. "Fieger has not filed candidacy papers, but ..." we are told.

Years ago, young reporters were beaten to death in America’s newsrooms for writing a story saying so-and-so "planned to file a lawsuit." Prudent journalism meant waiting till the lawsuit actually had been filed.

Not any more. ElBoghdady or Fieger or both seem also to have only the sketchiest knowledge about how politics works in this united state, noting that he threatened to "switch course and run as an independent," if he wins (the primary) "and Democratic leadership works to undermine him." There is the little impossible matter of creating an independent party at that point and getting it on the ballot, but hey.

What do I think about all this? Naturally, I’ll tell you, but first, what really matters is what the Democrats think. Last year, I cheerfully voted for Fieger in the primary; he was what the UAW bosses and their man at the helm, Mark Brewer, the state party chairman, richly deserved. These people, some of whom care more about controlling the apparatus than winning elections, had tried to rig things for Larry Owen, who was far too much of a clod for voters to swallow. (Some nice policy wonk named Doug Ross was also in the race, but was limited by his ability to speak only COBOL and FORTRAN.)

Revolted, the voters chose the wild boar. Now, this didn’t matter very much, because nobody was going to beat John Engler. But the party lost the state House, and nearly everything else in sight, and the day after the election, I felt strongly that honor required Brewer – a nice man personally, to be sure – to resign.

But these are Democrats, remember (as in Clinton, Bubba), and honor ain’t got nothing to do with it. He dug his fingernails in, and likely will be re-elected when the party, or remnants thereof, convenes this weekend.

Having solved that – what do they do about the Senate race? This time, Abraham is potentially highly vulnerable. Trouble is, you gotta have somebody to beat somebody, and the Dems have a weak bench. With Dennis Archer still shoveling out, speculation has centered on James Blanchard, best remembered as the Man Who Handed It to Engler.

Sunny Jim has his strengths, but likes making money now as a Washington lawyer, enjoys life with his wife, and may have become too normal to want to be a 58-year-old junior senator of the minority party. There’s U.S. Rep. Debbie Stabenow, but presumably she’d have to have a pretty good chance and a clear shot to give up her seat in the House.

What would happen with Fieger in the race? Clearly, the waters would be hopelessly muddied. Dr. Stanley Levy, an internist at Sinai who has known Fieger since childhood, is puzzled. "Geoffrey has really good positions on the issues, but you never hear that discussed," he noted. You sure don’t, and you aren’t likely to, thanks both to the candidate and the nature of the media today.

Odds are that Fieger would do a bit better than his 37.8 percent vote against the governor, but not all that much. What if he ran as an independent?

That might – might – give him a shot at the fast lane on Ventura Highway, following in the jockstrap of pro wrestler, now independent Minnesota governor, Jesse Da Bod. That scenario is especially likely if Yokich, Brewer and Co. come up with another Larry Owen for the Senate race. But it also might cast Fieger in the role of the spoiler who helps re-elects Abraham and goes down as a two-time loser.

Geoffrey Fieger wouldn’t like being Harold Stassen with hair. Frankly, I think it is great that he can grab big headlines by telling a naive reporter he plans to run. I love that he can shake up the zombies in his party. But in the end, he ought to bob, weave and float like a butterfly out of there. This isn’t his time and place to sting like a bee.

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