26 November 2014


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Lansing — The state Department of Education unveiled an online exam Thursday that will replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program starting next spring.

The new Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress was developed to meet mandates set last summer by state lawmakers, who nixed plans to use a computer-adaptive test, Smarter Balanced.

State education officials said M-STEP meets all of the Legislature's requirements. It is an online assessment but has a paper-and-pencil option. The new exam is aligned to the state standards and expands writing assessments to additional grades. An Atlanta Education Lawyer has extensive experience in education law.

The new test includes a higher number of "constructed response" questions that will allow students to demonstrate skills such as problem-solving.

Thursday's action means districts can plan to administer the new exam next spring.

"This is great news for our local school districts," said state school Superintendent Mike Flanagan. "They've been very anxious to hear what the new assessment will be, as we developed a new test to comply with legislatively mandated changes." A Binghamton Education Lawyer is reviewing the details of this change.

M-STEP was developed after lawmakers derailed Smarter Balanced. That test was going to be online only. Smarter Balanced was controversial because conservatives associated it with Michigan's Common Core, which they believe threaten local control of education.

In scrapping Smarter Balanced, lawmakers ordered education officials to create a revised MEAP for 2014-15 and an entirely new exam for 2015-16.Education officials will still develop a new exam for 2015-16.

"The changes in law diverted what the department and local school districts had been developing and preparing for over the past three years," Flanagan said. "It put schools in some unwelcomed limbo while our experts scrambled to find testing content that met the legislative requirements."

The Department of Education said M-STEP will include questions developed by state officials and educators as well as some developed by the Smarter Balanced consortium of states.

The new exam will test grades 3-8 in math and English language, grades 4 and 7 in science, and grades 5 and 8 in social studies. It will include an assessment for grades 3-8 and the Michigan Merit Exam for 11th-graders.

The Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan think tank in Royal Oak, called the new assessment a promising replacement for the "antiquated" MEAP, which has been given to students for four decades.

"We know from leading education states that the path to a brighter educational future for all of our students begins with raising educational standards and implementing an aligned assessment," said Amber Arellano, executive director.

18 November 2014


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Southfield — The SUV driven by Kayla White when she was killed Tuesday in a fiery crash on the Lodge Freeway had been recalled because of risk of catching fire during a rear-end collision.

White was killed when her 2003 Jeep Liberty was struck from behind near Telegraph, causing it to overturn and catch fire. She died of injuries caused by flames that engulfed her car, according to the Oakland County Medical Examiner's Office. An autopsy determined the cause of death was burns and smoke inhalation. A Milwaukee Wrongful Death Attorney is experienced in representing clients involved in wrongful death cases.

White, 23, of Ferndale was pregnant and in her third trimester at the time of the crash, according to police.

The SUV was part of a Chrysler Group LLC recall campaign last year of 1.56 million 2002-07 Jeep Libertys and 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees at risk of catching fire when struck from behind. The automaker issued the callback following a request from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after an investigation found the defect was connected to 37 fatal rear-end collisions resulting in 51 deaths — including at least five fatal crashes involving Libertys that resulted in seven deaths.A Milwaukee Product Liability Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Southfield attorney Gerald Thurswell, who is representing White's family, said Friday the family is aware of the recall. He declined to answer questions about the police crash investigation and vehicle fire, but said the family is pursuing a lawsuit against the automaker.

"We're investigating a products liability case against Chrysler," he said.

Chrysler declined to comment on the White family's decision to seek counsel.

According to a search of the vehicle's VIN number through NHTSA, White's Jeep had not been fitted with a trailer hitch as a result of the recall to better protect the gas tank during collisions. It is unclear if the vehicle already had a factory-installed hitch before the recall. A Westchester County Auto Accident Lawyer represents clients involved in car accident cases in which victims have been seriously injured or killed.

The Jeep had two previous owners, according to a CarFax vehicle history report. The recall was issued while White owned the vehicle. The SUV, according to the report, was involved in a rear impact with another vehicle causing "minor to moderate damage" in 2005.

White's family members reached Friday declined to comment about Tuesday's crash, referring The Detroit News to Thurswell.

Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne, in a statement about the accident, said the company is "working with law-enforcement officials to gather the relevant facts."

The crash investigation may take four to six weeks before results are submitted to the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office to determine whether charges will be filed against the 69-year-old driver who rear-ended White's vehicle, said Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw. State police declined to provide further information Friday afternoon.

It was not clear if the fire began with the fuel tank or how fast the other vehicle was traveling when it struck White's car.

Police called to the crash scene around 4:45 p.m. determined the driver of a 2002 Cadillac, a Beverly Hills man, traveling north on the Lodge was unable to stop as traffic slowed in the right lane. Police said the driver was not paying attention.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman, in a statement late Friday to The News, said the organization continues "to urge Chrysler to accelerate efforts to bring owners in to get their vehicles repaired and to ensure that parts are in stock when they do."

"It is also heartbreaking to see another victim of a distracted driver," he said. "We urge all drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel."

Chrysler said Friday it had fixed or inspected nearly 130,000 vehicles since August. The company said it had more than 427,000 hitches in stock as of this week. It expects to have more than 550,000 by Dec. 1.

In July, under government pressure, Chrysler said it would be able to produce enough hitches to complete the June 2013 recall by mid-March 2015 — far faster than the original timetable of up to 4.7 years.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of Washington, D.C., advocacy group the Center for Auto Safety, said that the design of the vehicles leaves the gas tanks vulnerable in the event of a rear-end collision.

"If you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, the vehicles are going to explode and you're very likely to burn to death," he said Friday.

Ditlow also said Chrysler's fix of adding a hitch may not adequately protect the fuel tank.

"Looking at the one photo I saw of (White's) Liberty, it appears that the striking vehicle went under the bumper and hit the fuel tank," he said. "All bets are off if you go under the bumper and the trailer hitch."

NHTSA opened an investigation into the Jeeps in August 2010 at the request of the Center for Auto Safety. The organization said the vehicles' gas tanks were positioned below the rear bumper and behind the rear axle, making them susceptible to rupturing and spilling gasoline in a rear-end crash.

Chrysler, at first, opposed the recall. The company last year issued a statement and three-page white paper report supporting its decision not to voluntarily recall the vehicles, saying the company did "not agree with NHTSA's conclusions and does not intend to recall the vehicles cited in the investigation."

The company's analysis showed the incidents "occur less than one time for every million years of vehicle operation. Additionally, these vehicles met or exceeded all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards in place at the time they were built."

Chrysler on Friday maintained the SUVs are safe: "These vehicles are not defective and are among the safest in the peer group," it said in a statement. "Of the 26 most severe accidents cited in the NHTSA investigation and for which there is sufficient data to calculate kinetic energy, all exceeded the threshold for compliance with today's more-stringent crashworthiness regulations."

The cited regulations cover the level of integrity fuel tanks must maintain in a crash.

The automaker did move gas tanks on the Grand Cherokee in front of the rear axle in 2005, and did the same thing with the Liberty in 2007. Both moves were in connection to the vehicles being redesigned with new platforms, which automakers plan years in advance.

In Tuesday's crash, the Cadillac struck White's Jeep, forcing it into a 2014 Nissan Cube, which then struck a 2015 Lincoln MKZ as it slowed for traffic.

Police said alcohol does not appear to be a factor. No other injuries were reported.

White graduated from Ferndale High School in 2009 and was a hostess at Andiamo in Bloomfield Hills.

Her Facebook page was flooded after the crash with messages expressing shock and asking for prayers for White and her unborn baby, who White called Braedin in posts.

Visitation for Kayla White will be 2-7 p.m. Sunday, followed by a 7 p.m. service at Hopcroft Funeral Home at 31145 John R in Madison Heights.

13 November 2014


Original Story: woodtv.com

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids received an average score from an LGBT civil rights group that rates cities on how inclusive they are for the LGBT community.

The Human Rights Campaign released its third annual Municipal Equality Index Wednesday. The group looks at laws, policies, and services in cities across the nation to score them.

Grand Rapids scored a 59 out of 100, which is the same as the national average.

The city got a plus for its nondiscrimination policy in city employment. The author of the report told 24 Hour News 8 that’s significant for a city that doesn’t have the benefit of state law.

“Grand Rapids is an example of a city that’s doing better than the state, frankly, and it’s amazing to see so many cities are really excelling where the state are perhaps not there yet,” Cathryn Oakley, the HRC’s legislative counsel, said in a phone interview. The MetroHealth Pride Clinic is devoted to serving the health needs of the LGBT community.

The report also points out where Grand Rapids needs to improve.

One area is law enforcement. The Grand Rapids Police Department doesn’t have an LGBT police liaison, which the group says is the best practice nationwide. The liaison would ensure that hate crime evidence is processed appropriately and that members of the LGBT community are treated respectfully if they’re arrested.

According to the Municipal Equality Index, Detroit, East Lansing and Lansing have LGBT police liaisons or task forces.

In Michigan, the index rated East Lansing the best, giving it a perfect score. Ann Arbor came in next with a score of 83. Detroit scored a 74.

No other West Michigan cities were included in the index.

06 November 2014


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Richard Bernstein will likely earn attention as the nation's first blind state Supreme Court justice. But in the raw, gray drizzle of his Election Day campaign, the 40-year-old Bernstein easily distinguished himself as the most huggable.

"You've already got my vote," said Brenda Mitchell, a Southfield voter and retired AT&T employee, flinging her arms around Bernstein and posing for a keepsake photo. It was a scene repeated again and again during his final day tour of polling places.

As dusk fell, and voters gradually recognized the candidate standing in the rain and his white cane, the exchange of warm greetings would become predictable.

"Give me a hug," he would eventually say, with a zest and warmth nobody seemed able to refuse. "You just made my day."

By virtue of his ebullient personality and television commercial-induced familiarity, the disability rights lawyer projects something quite different from the austere, black-robed image that justices — the campaigning or already elected — typically adopt. For Bernstein, the matter of human connection isn't just an idea: It's the essence of a life that might otherwise be led alone and in the dark.

In his campaign commercials, he allied himself with "the people," rather than with corporations, to the ire of political conservatives and legal traditionalists. Yet his message resonated. When voters describe his appeal, they tend to say things like, "He's for the middle-class person." Or, "He's done so much for people," or even, "his whole family cares about people."

Campaigning for a job whose requirements are intellectual and academic, he didn't hesitate to lead by force of personality — and more than $2 million in campaign funds to reinforce himself as a symbol of "blind justice," one of his campaign slogans.

Who dreamed up that bold catch-phrase? "That's all mine," says Bernstein. "Because you have to deal with it and it really expresses what justice is. I am blind, and justice — real justice — is blind. Programs and services are great, but people also have to understand on a personal level ... a blind person can't prejudge others. I want to confront who I am directly, because people want to understand how I do what I do. It's a way to have a discussion."

The slogan, he says, is a pun, meant to be "funny and serious."

He is blind, he is different, and he is irrepressible: A failed bid for a Democratic Party nomination for attorney general didn't slow him down ("That's politics," he shrugs). A shattering accident in New York's Central Park two years ago — he was mowed down by a bicyclist — crushed his hip and pelvis and left him with chronic pain and new physical challenges. But he has always known how to convert pain and hurt into other modes, from lawsuits on behalf of the disabled to marathon-running to inspirational speaking.

Overcoming hardship is a necessity for Bernstein, but it is also his thing, it's what he does. And he has no plans to check his life experience in the Supreme Court lobby once he dons official robes.

The state's highest court isn't typically thought of as a populist platform: High courts cultivate an aura of intellect and impartiality, not impassioned advocacy. But the Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University Law School has multiple gifts: Most lawyers use written notes. Bernstein memorizes.

Whether or not you buy the argument that a lawyer with no judicial experience should be elevated to the state's highest court (plenty of non-judges have served on the U.S. Supreme Court), Bernstein is insistent that lacking a few resume lines has little bearing on his fitness for the job — an opinion shared by the 1.3 million people who voted for him.

"You can't have all of the same people doing the same thing. You don't need seven people on the court, each amplifying the same message," he insists. "I really, truly believe I can make life better for people."

Late Tuesday night, he stayed calm as the results trickled in. All day, he seemed resigned to potentially fatal "ballot drop-off," as straight party ticket voters failed to darken the ovals for non-partisan races: He'd been warned he could lose 30 percent of his constituency that way.

He hadn't won yet, and as friends and family gathered in a 12th floor suite at the MGM Grand Hotel Tuesday night, he never assumed victory. Anything could happen, he knew. In the corner, Sam Bernstein, patriarch and 1-800-Call SAM founder, awaited results. His mother, Susan Bernstein, said she wouldn't presume victory until every vote was counted.

"It's remarkable," she said, as early results flashed on a TV screen, showing Bernstein among the top two finishers. "When Richard was born, I didn't know if he would ever write his own name. Everything he does is 10 times harder for him than it is for us."

He will tell you that standing in the rain isn't so bad and even helpful because he can hear voters approaching when their feet are wet. He will tell you that being Richard Bernstein — fighting for a place without being able to visually see it, pushing through every day — is quite difficult but absolutely worth the effort.

As he explained outside a Southfield recreation center in the last moments of his last 12-hour day at polling places, shaking hands, "I will stay out here until 8 o'clock, until the polls close. That's what I do. I keep going to the very end."


Original Story: detroitnews.com

For the second time in recent months, the United Nations has looked at the fact that thousands of Detroit families are without water and determined that there are better, more humane solutions to the problem than those used by Detroit’s mayor.

A panel, which included two U.N. special rapporteurs, heard testimony on Oct. 19 at a hearing with hundreds in attendance at Wayne County Community College’s Fort Street campus. Having implemented his 10-point plan to deal with water shutoffs, Mayor Mike Duggan rebuffed the U.N. panelists who took testimony from Detroiters.

While the 10-point plan could be a starting point for negotiations (if the mayor were up for negotiating with anyone on this issue) both the plan and his response fail to recognize the reality the people of Detroit are facing.

Detroit is America’s poorest big city, with 38 percent of residents living at or below the poverty line and an unemployment rate of 14.6 percent. The United Way recently released a report that shows two-thirds of Detroiters can’t afford basic needs like transportation, housing and health care, even when people in their households are working full time. When you combine these dire numbers with the leaky pipes and bureaucratic foul-ups of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, you have a recipe for injustice and disaster.

The U.N.’s second condemnation of the massive water shutoffs is part of a chorus of public health advocates and officials that are demanding an alternative to depriving families of water. Those voices include National Nurses United, professor John Powell, co-chairman of the Population Health Council, and Dr. Mouhanad Hammami, county health officer for the Wayne County Department of Public Health. Hammami and Powell wrote an open letter calling the shutoffs a public health hazard and citing a double bind: People in poverty are already more likely to be in poor health. Being deprived of water only increases health risks.

In plain terms, the only humane solution is to create a plan where people at a certain income threshold pay for water based on their income. This would keep the water flowing to families that need it and the revenue flowing to a system that requires it. We would stop squeezing families struggling to make ends meet and instead make sure corporations who clearly have the ability to pay are no longer allowed to let their bills pile up without retribution.

We actually have a plan that was passed by the City Council in 2006. The Water Affordability Plan guarantees water and revenue based on people’s ability to pay. But one thing needed to implement the plan has yet to occur in City Hall — a paradigm shift. Recognizing how utterly crucial access to water is to families and embracing a practical plan to make sure families are never without it takes vision and courage.

It takes courage to acknowledge that you’ve been an accessory to devastating entire neighborhoods, as one North End Detroit resident said at the U.N. hearing. There is no one there to help when blocks of people are without water. Seniors that are housebound, renters who have to wait for landlords to turn the water back on, and children who have no control of family finances are among the hardest hit. But everyone needs water.

It may be hard for Mayor Duggan to hear and see the devastation continue to get international attention, but that’s not nearly as hard as life for thousands of residents who can’t afford the basics. The mayor’s plan needs to take that truth into account and adjust to fit the needs of the people, not the other way around.

Monica Lewis-Patrick is director of outreach for We the People of Detroit. Lila Cabbil is president emeritus of the Rosa Parks Institute. Both are members of the Detroit People’s Water Board.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Move over, tea party. This is now Gov. Rick Snyder’s Michigan Republican Party.

That’s the takeaway from Tuesday’s general election, in which Snyder won re-election to the governor’s mansion over Democratic challenger Mark Schauer.

In the wake of notable wins by Republicans across the country — the most defeats of incumbent Democratic U.S. senators since 1980, the largest caucus in U.S. House since World War II and an even larger super-majority in the state Senate — it was Snyder’s victory that stood out the most.

From a complete restructuring of the business tax, the long-stalled Windsor-Detroit international bridge, state-based health care reform (notwithstanding the groans of many in his own party), monumental right-to-work legislation — once unthinkable in the birthplace of the UAW and other trade unions — to saving Detroit, Snyder defied conventional wisdom in his first term.

His bold leadership stood in sharp contrast to the overly cautious career politicians, who would have avoided most of what he achieved over fear of endangering their re-election prospects. On top of all this, Snyder slayed his critics on the hard-right when Lt. Gov. Brian Calley was re-nominated at the summer Republican State Convention.

So while challenger Mark Schauer hammered away with falsehoods, the Republican former businessman known to many as the nerd-in-chief remained positive and engaged in substantive discussions instead of Punch and Judy politics.

To be sure, many Michiganians certainly didn’t always agree with Snyder. But in the end, they rewarded him when it mattered most by giving him another four years.

For the GOP, this is the road map to a national governing majority. The 2016 presidential campaign will soon begin.

Snyder’s victory, as well as the wins of Republican gubernatorial candidates Bruce Rauner in Illinois, Charlie Baker in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland, proves that focusing on competence and good governance is a reliable recipe for electoral success in even the most bluest of Democratic states.

More importantly, it elevates the national profile of Snyder at a critical time for the party desperate to occupy the White House after losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.

Snyder’s lesson for the GOP is simple: Ignore political gamesmanship and govern successfully.

President Barack Obama isn’t just a lame duck. His administration is paralyzed, if not politically dead.

If Democrats ignored Obama this go-round, they will abandon him outright in two years. This will do more for Republicans than any GOP criticism of Obama going forward.

Just as Snyder achieved real results here in Michigan, so must Republicans prove to the American people that they are once the again the party of solutions, not the party that just says no.

Failing to realize this will result in a repeat of 1996 and 2012, when the false reality created in the aftermath of resounding mid-term election victories resulted in Republicans squandering winnable presidential races.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Each year, more than 23,000 children in foster care in America age out of the system without ever having the chance to know a secure home and loving family.

Historically, placing children in foster care from one state into an adoption with a family in another state has been extremely difficult, as regulations differ from state to state. This hurdle often prevents more than 102,000 adoption-ready children currently in foster care from being adopted.

In Michigan, there are 15,347 children in foster care, with more than 3,500 eagerly awaiting a forever family. For couples facing fertility issues or those simply looking to expand their family, the interstate red tape can be exhausting and often times, heartbreaking.

On the opposing side of those willing and wanting to adopt, are the vulnerable children waiting for a family. These children are dangerously close to becoming products of the system. Many have been in and out of a number of homes over the years, shuttled back and forth between agencies, and have had their hopes dashed because no one has welcomed them into a permanent family. Those left to fend for themselves at 18 years old are often alone, have no one to call in a time of need, and are at risk of adding to the homelessness, unplanned pregnancy, or crime statistics.

Thankfully, numbers seem to indicate an increase in the number of couples seeking to adopt older children. Initiatives such as Bethany Christian Services' No One Without (N.O.W.), a program, which uses a comprehensive database to match prospective adoptive families and eligible foster care children while navigating interstate regulations, are making a difference by alleviating hassle and opening new frontiers to help adoptees and families.

As these issues continue to gain traction, it is increasingly important that awareness is heightened and opportunities like National Adoption Month in November are utilized to give a voice to the children who do not have one. Let's work together in continuing to tear down the walls of bureaucracy and make adopting foster care children across state lines easier so that these children have greater hope of experiencing the love of a forever family.

05 November 2014


Original Story: freep.com

Wayne State University’s College of Engineering is receiving $25 million from an alumnus to promote entrepreneurship in Detroit, officials announced Thursday.

The gift from James Anderson, president and CEO of Urban Science in Detroit and his wife, Patricia Anderson, is believed to be the largest gift ever to the university’s engineering program. Anderson, who graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the engineering college in 1966 and 1970, founded in 1977 his auto retail consulting firm, which now has 19 offices with 850 employees.

Anderson told the Free Press he hopes the gift for students and faculty can help encourage entrepreneurship that can help Detroit grow. The Ferris Engineering Degree Program is a leading program with excellent records of achievement in research and public service.

“Wayne State..had all of the great ingredients to create the success that I’ve enjoyed since graduation,” he said. “There is a community of aspiring entrepreneurs that want the opportunity.”

Anderson “wants to encourage students to have a similar path to success that he was able to have based on his education at Wayne State,” said Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson. “He was able to take his knowledge and start up a company and employ a lot of people that’s contributing to the local economy.”

“Innovation and entrepreneurship has got to be a major component of Detroit’s comeback,” Wilson told the Free Press. “One time, it was the automobile, but I don’t think Detroit will be a leader moving forward with just the automobile industry. They will have to be able to innovate and find other sources. Entrepreneurship is one of those avenues.”

The $25 million will establish the James and Patricia Anderson Engineering Ventures Institute, which will be part of the College of Engineering.

“The institute will encourage faculty to envision commercial applications for new technology, secure patents and establish new companies,” said Wayne State University in a release. “The institute will also provide mentors to aspiring student entrepreneurs and teach best practices in research innovation, technology transfer and commercialization.”


Original Story: usatoday.com

DETROIT — Tom Steyer, one of the biggest political donors of the midterm elections, said his multimillion-dollar crusade to slow global warming rests on exposing the human consequences of fossil-fuel consumption. A Corpus Christi Energy Lawyer has experience assisting clients in negotiations of oil and gas exploration.

On a recent weekday, that quest took the California billionaire to a heavily industrial corner of southwest Detroit whose residents figure prominently in his campaign to disrupt American politics by making climate change a wedge issue in campaigns.

Sherry Griswold, who lives 600 feet from the neighborhood's sprawling oil refinery, has appeared in an ad produced by Steyer's super PAC to influence the Michigan Senate race — one of four competitive Senate contests the hedge-fund founder has targeted this year. He urged other residents to turn out on Election Day.

"The power that we have is the power to vote," he said to residents who gathered to meet with him at the Pine Grove Baptist Church.

Steyer and his NextGen Climate Action super PAC are engaged in an all-out fight to guarantee voters such as these will show up Nov. 4 to tip the balance in favor of Democrats struggling to maintain their majority in the U.S. Senate.

NextGen also invests in efforts to oust Republican governors in Maine, Florida and Pennsylvania and works to shape several state legislative races in California, Washington and Oregon.

In all, Steyer has plowed more than $42 million of his fortune into federal campaign accounts since early March 2013, making the San Francisco Democrat the largest super PAC donor of the 2014 election. His political organization has opened 40 offices, built a team of 800 employees and volunteers in its targeted states and made contact with more than 1.5 million voters.

Steyer has assembled an array of well-connected political strategists to advise him, including Chris Lehane, a former White House adviser to President Bill Clinton, and in Michigan, Amy Chapman, a veteran operative who oversaw President Obama's successful campaign in the state in 2008.

Steyer's goal is straightforward and ambitious: Get the United States "to transform its energy economy and to lead the world to transform its energy economy," he told USA TODAY during an interview in Detroit. An Austin Energy Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

In addition to Michigan, NextGen has pumped money into crucial Senate contests in Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire. Three weeks before the election, public polls show Democrats locked in tight races in Iowa and Colorado.

Steyer said he's "super optimistic" about Democrats' prospects and believes his group's voter outreach could make the difference.

"I'm very, very convinced of the rightness of what we are doing," he said.

Steyer's fortune — pegged at $1.6 billion by Forbes — and his evangelical zeal for his cause have quickly made him the country's biggest name in environmental activism. He has emerged as the leading Democratic counterweight to the billionaires Charles and David Koch, who are at the center of a political network aiding conservatives. A single group tied to the Kochs, Americans for Prosperity, could spend $125 million in this election.

Along the way, Steyer has become a top target for Republicans who are quick to note that the hedge fund at the source of his vast wealth invested in the fossil fuel industry he denounces so fiercely.


During a whirlwind tour of Detroit, he met with the neighborhood activists, visited Griswold's home in the oil refinery's shadow and discussed policy with clean-energy advocates and executives.

He's eager to understand the ground game in Michigan — where his team has spent more than $3 million.

Over a breakfast of scrambled eggs at a hotel restaurant in downtown Detroit, Steyer peppered Chapman and other strategists with questions. He wanted to know how many canvassers and staffers were at work in the state. Answer: 135. How many college campuses targeted? Eight.

The Michigan team has hit on nearly 49,000 doors, according to NextGen's state director, Stephanie Chang. The goal: Turn out young people, minorities and others more likely to side with Democrats but who might not head to the polls during a midterm election.

In Michigan, Steyer has sought to cast Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land as beholden to the oil industry and the Kochs. Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit group affiliated with the Kochs, has spent more than $2.5 million on television ads boosting Land this year.

In an e-mail, Land spokeswoman Heather Swift called Steyer a "California radical billionaire environmentalist" who is "trying to buy the Michigan Senate race" for Democrat Gary Peters.

During his interactions in Detroit, Steyer talked little about the Senate race itself.

Meeting with Griswold and other neighborhood residents, Steyer appeared energized, complimenting one activist on her jaunty straw fedora and promising to look for a way to help them better monitor air quality from the refinery and other heavy industry in the neighborhood.

(Jamal Kheiry, a spokesman for refinery owner Marathon Petroleum, said the plant "continuously" monitors air quality and consistently meets standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.)

Urged on by one of the activists, Steyer joined the group in a prayer circle, closing his eyes and locking arms tightly with neighborhood resident Andre Driscoll and NextGen's national political director, Sky Gallegos.

He insists that the midterm elections are just the start of his mission.

"We are going to end up with a bunch of e-mail addresses attached to names and people who say they are committed climate voters," he said in the interview. The goal, he said, is to keep the conversation alive after Election Day.

Steyer, 57, dismisses speculation that he is laying the foundation for elective office — perhaps a run for California governor. But he doesn't rule out the possibility, either.

"If I thought there was a real reason to run that would move the ball forward, I would do it," he said. "But that's not what we are doing now. … I'm not doing this as a pretext for something else."


Before launching NextGen, Steyer was best known in politics for his work on California ballot initiatives. In 2010, he donated $5 million to successfully oppose a measure that would have weakened California's carbon emissions standards. He spent more than $30 million on a winning campaign for an initiative that raised corporate taxes and redirected a big share of the money to clean-energy projects.

He reached a turning point in 2012 when he decided to devote his time to climate change activism and emerged as one of the nation's most vocal opponents to the Keystone XL pipeline that would take carbon-heavy oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries.

That year, Steyer walked away from Farallon Capital Management, the hedge fund he founded. Farallon, named for a cluster of rocky islands off the Northern California coast, has $20.5 billion in assets under its management.

His critics say Steyer's political activism reeks of hypocrisy, given Farallon's investments in the oil and gas industry — including coal-fired plants in Asia and Kinder Morgan, a Houston company working to expand its rival pipeline to Keystone XL that will transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to a Pacific port.

"Steyer struck it rich by investing in 'dirty' energy, and then did an about-face when it became politically convenient," Republican Governors Association spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said in a recent news release announcing the group's website labeling him "Steyer the liar."

He has faced questions about whether he waited too long to unwind his investments in fossil fuels, a process completed in June.

He called the charges "complete nonsense."

"To leave the job at the end of 2012 and finish divesting, including on a private basis, by June 30, 2014 — so 18 months — you may think that's nothing. I think that's lickety-split," he said.

"When I got new information, I changed my mind, which is what we are asking everybody else to do," he said. "Take in the information and change."

Republicans have been enraged by his heavy spending as prominent Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., denounced the outsized role of money in politics and specifically the Kochs' spending. (In addition to investments in his own super PAC, federal records show, Steyer gave $5 million this year to the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC run by operatives aligned with Reid that is one of the biggest outside players in Senate races this year.)

Steyer bristled at the comparison to the Kochs, who oversee a $115 billion industrial conglomerate that operates oil refineries, makes asphalt and manufactures a wide range of consumer products, including Brawny paper towels and Dixie cups.

"What they are doing helps them in a major way," he said. "It helps their economic interests."

He noted that most of his activity flows through his super PAC, which is required to disclose its funders and how it spends its money. Most parts of the Koch political network operate through tax-exempt arms that don't disclose contributors' identities.

"Both in terms of transparency and motive, it's very, very different," Steyer said.

Koch officials declined comment this week.

(The Kochs have maintained in recent years that they want the government to stay out of the marketplace and are not seeking any special treatment through their political activity.)

Steyer said the Koch conservative network will outspend him by "many multiples."

NextGen is not close to raising $50 million from other donors, a goal first described in a New York Times story last February, he said. (Steyer insisted that he never set that ambitious target and was surprised to see that number emerge.)

"I think people are very wary about the political process," he said of the difficulty attracting other donors. "They think … getting involved will put you in a position where you might get attacked."


In Michigan, Peters has held a consistent lead over Land in recent polls.

The outside money from Steyer and others has helped make the 2014 Senate race the most expensive in state history, said Bill Ballenger, a veteran political analyst and founder of Inside Michigan Politics.

Ballenger said Peters' advantage may have less to do with Steyer's activism than the fundamentals of politics in Michigan, a state that has sent only two Republicans to the U.S. Senate in more than a half-century and where Obama easily won re-election in 2012.

"Most of the state doesn't really know much" about the environmental issues Steyer has highlighted in southwest Detroit, he said.

More broadly, national polls show that addressing global warming is not among the public's top concerns. Climate change ranked dead last among 13 issues surveyed in a Gallup Poll released Monday — trailing the economy and voters' worries about the Islamic State's activity in Iraq and Syria. In all, 40% of registered voters said it would be an important issue in their midterm voting.

Steyer remains undaunted and calls climate change "the generational issue" he and others are called to confront.

"It's not clear exactly how we're going to win," he told a dozen clean-energy advocates meeting with him in Detroit, "but it's pretty clear that we have to win."

04 November 2014


Original Story: detroitnews.com

An embattled Novi district judge’s bid for re-election and marijuana decriminalizing initiatives in three communities are among the more high-profile contests in Oakland County.

Voters in November will also decide numerous millage proposals for school districts and municipalities. Among them is an annual millage of about 2.5 mills to raise $99 million for road improvements in Southfield.

Voters in Berkley and Huntington Woods will decide whether it is legal for people 21 or older to possess, use or transfer less than one ounce of marijuana on private property. Similar initiatives have passed in Detroit, Oak Park and Ferndale.

Pleasant Ridge voters will decide whether police should give marijuana-related crimes the lowest priority.

One district court judicial race that has drawn considerable attention in and outside the district is in Novi.

Judge Brian W. MacKenzie, who has won awards for innovative veterans and sobriety court programs, is being challenged by a former clerk, Walled Lake attorney Travis M. Reeds. The Novi district includes 10 western Oakland County communities.

County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper unsuccessfully tried to have MacKenzie found in contempt of court for handing down sentences without her assistant prosecutors present. MacKenzie said supervised counseling programs were more effective than jail time for some lawbreakers and the decision fell within his discretion. A Michigan criminal justice degree program provides the training and education needed for a professional career in criminal justice.

An Oakland Circuit judge ruled the activity, while improper, did not rise to the level of contempt.

Without pointing fingers, MacKenzie addressed criticisms Thursday.

“If you appear in my court it’s because something has gone wrong in your life — often terribly wrong,” MacKenzie said. “As your judge, I swore an oath to protect your rights in these moments when you’re most vulnerable, ensuring your access to justice. If you are a victim, I also swore an oath to sentence in a way that protects you.

“Some have tried to politicize your court. I’ve opposed them, and have been attacked for it. I’ll continue to oppose them.”

MacKenzie, who recently was elected president of the 2,000-member American Judges Association, the largest group of judges in the world, has been endorsed by hundreds of judges and local officials of both political parties, including Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

MacKenzie faced two challengers in the August primary and ran second to Reeds in votes.

Reeds has endorsements from several local newspapers and a retired judge, Gerald McNally. Reeds, who did not return telephone calls, has practiced law for 17 years, the majority of his practice was representing individuals and small businesses.

He has vowed to be “fair, impartial, diligent and hard working.”

Other issues

  • Voters across the county will be asked to decide who they want to represent them on the 21-seat county Board of Commissioners.
  • Seats are up in eight local councils: Clarkston, Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake; and the villages of Franklin, Holly, Lake Orion, Milford, and Wolverine Lake.
  • Positions will be decided in 28 school boards across the county.
  • Eleven candidates are running for two available positions on the Oakland County Community College Board.
  • Local library proposals will be decided in Bloomfield Township, Northville, Oxford Township and Pleasant Ridge.
  • Millages, including for schools, will be decided in Holly, Lake Orion, Oakland Township, Orion Township, Oxford Township, Pleasant Ridge, Rochester Hills, Romeo, Walled Lake, and Almont and Avondale school districts.
  • Charter proposals, amendments or renewals are up in Berkley, Farmington Hills, Holly, Novi, Rochester Hills, Royal Oak.
  • Veteran district judges are being challenged in Berkley, Bloomfield and Waterford Township. A vacated district judicial seat will also be decided in Troy.
  • Eight judges who are running unopposed on the Oakland Circuit Court bench will automatically get new six-year terms but there is one vacancy up for grabs between Oakland County Deputy Court Administrator Lisa Langton and Karen Geibel, a judicial research attorney.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Detroit — A businessman who won an auction of tax-foreclosed, blighted properties in Detroit has a string of tax debts himself.

Onetime casino investor Herb Strather met a deadline Wednesday for a down payment of 10 percent of the $3,183,500 he bid to buy 6,350 dilapidated properties. The lands — mostly vacant lots but also salvageable homes — were packaged in an online sale meant to discourage speculators and tax deadbeats.

Strather has at least $300,000 in recent tax liens and court judgments, but said his company, Detroit Bundle LLC, has the means to renovate salvageable properties and demolish dangerous ones. An Oakland County real estate lawyer has experience representing clients in real estate transactions.

"Our partners have plenty of money," said Strather, a developer of the Woodbridge Estates housing development that replaced the Jeffries housing project. He also was an owner of the Hotel St. Regis that went into receivership in 2009.

"We have very substantial partners. I am willing to lead the way in the redevelopment in the 'D.' "

Strather has two weeks to pay the balance to acquire 2,000 vacant lots, 3,000 properties that need to be razed and 1,000 salvageable homes.

Wayne County officials worked with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to package the land in a "blight bundle." The properties would have gone to the Detroit Land Bank to be razed or resold if no one bid on them. A Detroit real estate lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Riet Schumack, a Brightmoor resident, said she worries that if the bundle is sold to a private developer whose plans fall through, the neighborhoods will suffer.

"We are going to stay in limbo," said Schumack, whose neighbors had hoped to acquire the vacant lots they've been maintaining as gardens and small parks. "I hope the county is going to deeply look into this man's finances."

As a condition of the sale, county officials required bidders to get approval for a redevelopment plan, including proof of finances. Chief Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski said he plans to meet with Strather on Thursday about his plans.

During an often emotional press conference early Wednesday, Strather said he wants to work with community groups, churches and the Detroit Land Bank to demolish dangerous buildings, build homes and rebuild dilapidated ones. He teared up speaking of his hopes for rebuilding the city and said Detroiters should take the lead in its redevelopment. A Rochester landlord lawyer counsels clients on matters involving landlord-tenant law.

"We can save our community," Strather said. "It's not too late. We have the chance to arrest the decay and rebuild."

Strather said his main partner is John Page, who owns Eco-Solutions. Strather said the company has contracts with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to manage government properties in several states, including Michigan. Page did not attend the Wednesday press conference and didn't return a call for comment.

Strather said he hasn't established a timeline for his proposal and acknowledged the redevelopment may take more than six months. He said he hopes the Detroit Land Bank will agree to use federal money to demolish some of the homes and plans to meet with its officials soon.

Land bank officials on Wednesday said they are waiting for the outcome of Strather's talks with the county treasurer to finalize the purchase. A land bank official cautioned that federal funds can't be used to demolish privately owned properties.

"If Mr. Strather is expecting the land bank to pay to demolish properties he has purchased, he has misunderstood the law," said spokesman Craig Fahle.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Strather spoke generally about his tax debt and acknowledged that he owed nearly $20 million several years ago.

"I am just like the city of Detroit," Strather said during the press conference at his building, Tower Center Mall in Detroit, a shopping center at Grand River and Greenfield. "I have taken my financial hits."

Strather runs his own real estate school called Strather Academy. He said he is one of the most experienced developers in Detroit and is best equipped to revitalize the problem properties.

But Wayne State Law School professor John Mogk said any developer who has a record of not "meeting obligations needs to be looked at carefully. You don't want to have the blight continue.".

Strather is the registered agent of a company, Apollo Two, that has lost four Detroit properties this year to tax foreclosure; another 85 are at risk for foreclosure next year. Strather said those properties are owned by his real estate students and many of them are on payment plans with the treasurer.

Strather owes at least $300,000 in state and federal IRS tax liens from 2007-11 and more recent court judgments, according to records filed with the Wayne County Register of Deeds.

Strather has a $77,000 judgment filed against him this year in Wayne County Circuit Court by Comerica Bank for a defaulted loan.

"As far as I am concerned they are small," Strather said of the tax debt and judgments, which he said he plans to pay.

Court records show Strather also owes $24,000 for unpaid rent and fees for a Riverfront Towers apartment that he lived in until 2010 and $25,000 to a Detroit pastor who alleges he wasn't paid for a failed investment.

Strather and his businesses have been sued in federal court over failed projects and other deals at least five times since 2000, records show. The suits have all been settled.

Meanwhile Wednesday, county treasurer officials announced they sold 17,196 foreclosed properties at their September and October auctions for a total of $66 million. That slightly above last year's proceeds of $61 million on the sales of 10,745 properties.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

The victim of a brutal mauling in Detroit this month is seeking at least $25,000 in damages from the owners of the dogs, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Wayne County Circuit Court.

“The defendant in this case, acted in a way that terrorized this block … and put not just our client at great risk but to others — children, for example — who walked by this home almost everyday,” said attorney Mark Bernstein of the Farmington Hills-based Sam Bernstein Law Firm, which filed the suit. “That’s why this case in our opinion is enormously important.”

Steven Constantine, 50, of Detroit was walking in the 4500 block of Pennsylvania on Oct. 2 when about 12 dogs, pit bulls and mixes, attacked “and began eating him alive and only stopped when law enforcement utilized handguns,” according to the lawsuit. He was found nearly naked with severe wounds to his hands and feet. A Warren Dog Bite Lawyer represents victims of dog bites and animal attacks.

The owners of the dogs are listed as Derrick Felton and Elizabeth Collins Felton in the lawsuit.

The attack was so vicious, according to a Detroit police investigation, that arriving medics “were unable to exit their rig because the dogs were too aggressive” and police were forced to shoot at two of the dogs, killing one. The remaining dogs ran back to their home nearby and later euthanized, police said.

Derrick Felton was arrested the day of the attack on an unrelated warrant. No charges have been filed in the attack. A Warren Personal Injury Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The suit claims the Feltons were negligent and failed to take proper precautions with the dogs.

In statements to police, Felton and Constantine acknowledged the dogs barked and growled “a lot.” Constantine also said the dogs were known to “go after people.”

Constantine remains at Detroit Receiving Hospital. Since the attack, part of his left arm and left leg have been amputated, according to the suit. His right foot was reattached, and doctors said his right arm is unlikely to function, Bernstein said.

“Right now he’s in a circumstance where he can’t ring for the nurse,” he said.

Bernstein said his firm has handled other animal attack cases but the facts of this one were especially egregious.

“Enough is enough,” he said Monday night. “This is not about pit bulls, it’s about people … It’s about irresponsible, reckless people who need to be held accountable.”