Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Democrats Are Depressed, Casperson Is Classy, Negaunee Is Spending, and Marquette Is Happy

A COUPLE OF months ago, Democrats were high on ousting incumbent Republican Dan Benishek in Michigan's First Congressional District.

They were pouring money and staff into the U.P. and northern Lower Michigan. They had an attractive, moderate candidate in Jerry Cannon who boasted law enforcement and military credentials as well as an outsider's status at a time when all of us were sick and tired of all the insiders in Washington DC.

So what the hell happened?

Word comes this week that some of the Cannon campaign staff are being pulled out and re-directed to other Democratic campaigns around the nation.

This, on top of a Roll Call report that $425,000 of anticipated pro-Cannon ads were being cancelled.

And this: Benishek has raised about twice as much cash as Cannon.

And finally this: the Rothenberg Political Report had been rating the First District race as "tilting" Republican. Now the rating is Republican "favored."

We don't have many reliable public polls up here, but apparently national Democrats have been doing some internal polling, and they're not encouraged. Thus, they're shifting some of their resources to other, apparently more promising races around the nation.

Unless the tea leaves are lying, this is shaping up as a nightmarish November for Democrats.

A NICE LITTLE display of bipartisanship in a ceremony in Marquette last week.

The Michigan Municipal League awarded its Legislator of the Year award to Republican State Senator Tom Casperson. Casperson accepted the award, but then called on Democratic State Representative John Kivela to come up and share it with him.
Casperson said he couldn't have done it without Kivela and other members of the U.P. delegation, both Democrat and Republican.

Huh? Can you imagine Nancy Pelosi calling on John Boehner to share an award with her, or Mitch McConnell singing the praises of Harry Reid?

Here's something else to consider. Kivela's a former auto mechanic, Casperson's  a former logging truck driver, State Rep Ed McBroom is a dairy farmer, and State Rep Scott Dianda was a heavy equipment operator.

Not a lawyer in the bunch, no Ivy League educations, either. They're Yoopers from different parties who disagree on many issues but they get along. Actually like each other. Maybe there's a lesson there.

DON'T LOOK NOW, but Ishpeming is slowly re-shaping its image, building by building.

Aided by grants from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, developers are spending more than a half million dollars on re-doing the facades and interiors of four buildings downtown.

The biggest is the Gossard Building, formerly known as Pioneer Square. Years ago, it was a factory manufacturing women's undergarments; now it's a remarkably attractive home to about fifteen businesses--some of them artsy and entrepreneurial.

Developer Paul Arsenault is hoping the building, which honors its historical roots, will infuse a youthful, artistic energy into downtown Ishpeming.

He'll need some help. The town has some dedicated developers and businessmen and women, but driving through downtown, you're still going to see plenty of vacant, if not dilapidated, storefronts, and hardly a pedestrian on the sidewalks.

Maybe the Gossard is a sign of things to come. Who wouldn't want to see the revival of a once thriving downtown Ishpeming?


Here's one of the latest. CreditDonkey, a bizarrely named website offering consumers financial news and advice, has just listed the Top Ten Happiest Cities in Michigan (population over 20,000).

Marquette placed eighth. Walker took first, Midland second and Allen Park third.

So you're asking, How do you determine who's happy?

CreditDonkey (seriously, change the name) listed several criteria including crime rate, household income, divorce rate, commute times...and the number of restaurants in town per inhabitant. Yes, we are generally going to be happier if we have more dining choices when we go out.

Here's the kicker: Of the top ten cities, Marquette had the most restaurants per capita. To be exact, we boast one restaurant for every 303 residents.

No surprise, we also had the shortest average commute time--12 minutes--and one of the lowest crime rates--one violent crime for every 1025 inhabitants.

YOU MAY HAVE seen Gale LaJoye working out recently at the YMCA in Marquette. Our world-renowned performance artist (clown? mime? silent actor?) is whipping himself into shape for what promises to be a grueling 48 show run at the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis next January and February.

It's the longest run at a single venue LaJoye's ever done. Apparently, after 25 years, there's still a huge demand to see his one man show, "Snowflake",
based on a simple, decent man who used to walk the streets of Marquette. Audiences from Japan to Mexico and from Hong Kong to Great Britain have given him standing ovations.

LaJoye, who's 64, says his body is still holding up after all these shows--1500 and counting--but he's now convinced that next year will be the last for "Snowflake." Of course, he's said that for the last six years as well, but this time, he really means it. Really.

Regardless, he expects the final show, appropriately enough, to be here in Marquette. And then, eschewing retirement, LaJoye says he'll move on to something else. When you're a performance artist, what are you gonna do? Sit on your butt?

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Marquette Displayed, Heavy Hitters Pitched, Rowers Relieved, and Liquor License Denied

TOO BAD ABOUT the wet and blustery weather this week because Marquette is on display before 1000 of  Michigan's movers and shakers.

You may have noticed them on the streets and in the restaurants, bars and hotel lobbies--members of the Michigan Municipal League. They're politicians, city officials and lobbyists from all over the state. Only rarely do they venture this far north for their convention.

In a very real sense, Marquette is a poster child for city revitalization and can provide lessons for other languishing cities and towns.

You don't have to go back very far--30 or 40 years--to remember when Marquette's waterfront was an industrial slum and its downtown was all but dead. Today? A brilliant and striking contrast.

The often unappreciated partnership between government and private enterprise has led the way.

THE MUNICIPAL LEAGUE has just published  a book, The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities, and no surprise, several pages are devoted to the turnaround in Marquette.

A quote: "Today, the city of Marquette essentially owns and controls its entire waterfront, a fact that has had a profound impact on its sense of place as a scenic waterfront community."

The book goes on to praise the city's brownfield cleanup, its embrace of its historical heritage while welcoming new development, and its promotion of the city as an outdoors community flush with bike trails everywhere.

Also mentioned: brew pubs ("Brew pubs have just gone nuts here"), the Landmark Inn ("History and architecture buffs have made it a favorite spot on the circuit of national historic hotels"), the remarkably popular and sold-out Beerfest ("The only problem might be too much success"), and the Vierling ("They actually still walk down to the harbor each day and get the fish fresh off the dock").

We've got a lot to boast about. Now, if we could just do something about the rain and the wind. And the icebergs in the harbor on May 30th.

A NEW CHAPTER on the city's future was being written this week at M Bank on Washington Street.

About twenty heavy hitters (annual income of $200,000 or net worth of $1,000,000) gathered to hear a pitch to become angel investors in Marquette's new Smartzone.

Angel investors invest in small, start-up companies in need of cash.

The Smartzone, with substantial financial incentives for high tech entrepreneurs, will be taking shape over the next six months throughout the city.

You like high tech? You like taking a bit of a gamble on smart people with new ideas? You like investing locally? You got an extra 50 grand burning a hole in your pocket? This is an opportunity to make a difference to your net worth, and to your hometown.

WE DON'T WANT to jump the gun on this but it sure looks like the once controversial and much delayed boathouse on Lake Superior, near the Hampton Inn, will become a reality within a few years.

The Marquette Planning Commission and the City Commission have now approved the plan to lease the boathouse to the Upper Peninsula Community Rowing Club.

Issues may still crop up but it appears that final approval of the rezoning of the site by the City Commission is all that remains. That should come at its October 27th meeting, just before the next election which, with new members, could have thrown the entire issue into doubt.

What you're hearing now is a collective sigh of relief from the rowers who've been planning this for four years and struggling to get it through the City Commission for eighteen months.

Most of the criticism died when the UPCRC agreed to build the boathouse but let the city maintain ownership of the property.

One teeny, tiny obstacle remains. The club has to raise a paltry $600,000 over the next few years to build the boathouse. Here's a guess: these women (and the club, for some reason, is mostly women) will do it ahead of schedule. They're a smart, tenacious, and well-connected bunch.

SO YOU STILL can't order a Corona with your burrito at Sol Azteca?

Nope. Management at the Mexican restaurant which opened since last winter (sans alcohol) bought a liquor license a few months back from a Gwinn business, but has still not gotten state approval to actually sell liquor.

The food's been good and inexpensive but management is frustrated because they're losing money. They say several tourists have sat down to order, then gotten up and left upon learning that alcohol wasn't on the menu.

Here's the back story. Sol Azteca management has gone to State Representative John Kivela looking for help. Kivela inquired and learned the Liquor Control Commission has denied the restaurant's application for a liquor license. No reason was given to Kivela.

Now the license denial is going through the appeal process. No word yet on when that will be completed.

So Sol Azteca has a liquor license but they can't use it, at least not yet.

In the meantime, they'll ply you with soft drinks and water. Yum.

CONTRARY TO EXPECTATIONS a few months ago, the tiny but much loved Huron Earth Deli on South Third Street is still open.

The owner thought she would close down and complete the sale of the building to an out-of-state couple within a few weeks.

It's taken longer than anticipated but the sale is still going to happen. Meantime, Huron Earth Deli's doors are still open with a limited inventory, including its near legendary crawfish chowder.

The new owners, by the way, will be also operating a food-related business on the site. That's good news for the neighborhood, certainly a better choice than a dental office or an auto supply shop. Or a bar.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Dental Chain with Questions, a Forum with Few Republicans, and a Haven for the Homeless

YOU MAY HAVE noticed that big hole next to the big  pile of dirt in the parking lot in front of the Westwood Mall on US 41.

Nope, it's not gonna be an Olive Garden. (For some reason, that seems to be on a lot of wish lists.)

What it will be is a new branch of Aspen Dental Management, a corporate dental chain with about 400 offices in more than 20 states.

Aspen will arrive here with a less than stellar reputation--chronic complaints, a class action lawsuit, and an unflattering report two years ago by Frontline and the Center for Public Integrity--Patients, Pressure and Profits at Aspen Dental.

A quote from the report: "...The same business model that makes Aspen Dental accessible to people short on cash can also lock people into debt and has led to complaints of patients being overcharged or given unnecessary treatments. Former employees say Aspen trained them in high pressure sales..."

Aspen has admitted no wrong.

It markets itself to moderate to low income patients, many of whom may have neglected their dental health for a long time. The U.P. probably has plenty of such patients. Let's hope that Aspen's somewhat dismal reputation is more hype than reality.

WE'LL BE WITNESSING a lopsided political forum Thursday at Peter White Public Library. It'll be tilting to the left.

The American Association of University Women and the Upper Peninsula Children's Coalition are co-sponsoring the event. They invited candidates for the UP's House seat, two local State Senate seats, and four State House seats.

Fourteen candidates all told, seven Democrats and seven Republicans.

The problem is, all but one of the Republicans has begged off of the event, claiming a conflict of some sort.

Pete Mackin, who's challenging incumbent John Kivela for his State House seat, is the only Republican promising to show up.

Here's a guess at what happened. The two sponsoring groups sound kinda liberal, don't they? Maybe the Republicans don't believe they'd get a fair shake with the questions or the audience. In fact, a couple of years ago, one of Republicans reportedly felt he got a raw deal on the questions at the forum.

It's too bad. The forum will be televised by Charter Cable and aired several times before Election Day. We need to know who we're voting for.

While we're on the subject, why is there no forum for City Commission candidates? It's an important election for a city dealing with major issues, and the candidates are interesting and diverse. But what exactly do they stand for?

Looks like the minority of us who go to the polls will just vote on the basis of friendship or name recognition or eenie-meenie-miney-moe.


The Warming Center for Room at the Inn has just opened on Washington Street downtown across from the Food Co-op.

The Room at the Inn provides beds for the homeless and transients at a rotating group of churches throughout the year, but what the volunteer agency has needed is a place for their clients to go every morning when they have to vacate the churches.

That's where the Warming Center comes in, and just in time for winter. It's now providing breakfasts seven mornings a week, plus showers and rest rooms, and a social worker.

More services and longer hours for the Center are planned in the months ahead.

Yeah, you gotta admit we're a pretty good town with individuals and companies stepping up to offer their help for the less fortunate.

The biggest donor? Cliffs Natural Resources. In fact, the Warming Center wouldn't have happened without Cliffs.

Makes you wonder whether the new, budget-slashing management of Cliffs will be as generous with community outreach dollars as Cliffs has been in the past.

OUR SUMMER MAY have been short and cool but the Isle Royale Queen III apparently had a good season, nevertheless.

More passengers and more revenue in its third season.

The big difference this year was free food on several of the cruises around Marquette's harbor. In some cases, it was local restaurants providing the food at no cost; in others, the cruise line paid.

Regardless, it was good for advertising and marketing and good for the passengers. After three years (and many of us worried it wouldn't last that long), the Isle Royale Queen III is building a strong bond with the business community in Marquette. They need each other.

By the way, the man at the helm of the 81 foot boat on Sundays this summer was Captain Bill Carmody, who also, you may have heard, finds time to preside as the chief judge of the 11th Circuit Court. He says the Isle Royale Queen III provides therapy for him.

Only in the U.P.
(CORRECTION: The first version of this story was incorrect. Your intrepid, and apparently blind, reporter misread the results.)

MARQUETTE'S MARATHONER TRACY Lokken had an off day at the Twin Cities Marathon over the weekend.

He finished in a time of 2:31:10, about ten minutes slower than his alltime best time.


He finished second in his class of men, 45-49. These are the best runners in the nation.

Why the slow (!!!) time? He reportedly told one observer he felt fine but just had no speed. So it goes.

Back to the grind. Now there's Marquette's winter to look forward to. Ice and snow have never slowed Tracy. You'll see him on the streets--he's the guy with the 1% body fat. Wish him well if you get a chance.

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