Former President Bill Clinton praised Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero as a top urban leader during a Sunday campaign appearance in Detroit, but his speech to mostly committed Democrats seemed unlikely to make a difference in a race where independents appear to favor Bernero’s opponent.
Bernero, mayor of Lansing the past five years, has been trailing Republican businessman Rick Snyder among independents and Republican voters in polls leading up to the Nov. 2 election.
Clinton told about 500 people at Detroit’s Renaissance High School that Bernero was the only candidate with an economic plan to turn around Michigan’s battered economy, and he mocked Snyder’s platform as empty “mom and apple pie” rhetoric.
Bernero has created jobs despite the hard times and balanced Lansing’s municipal budget by making tough decisions, including taking a personal pay and benefits cut, the former president said.
“He cut a budget $40 million and did not raise taxes, and instead cut the size of government 20 percent, including his own pay. And knew that his opponent had two chances to move jobs to Michigan, and chose China. If they just knew those two things, he would win this election. There’s a lot of play in this election,” said Clinton.
Clinton says he’s aware of the Republican argument that the Democratic party hasn’t gotten the country out of the economic ditch.
“We’re not out of the hole because it was a very deep hole. When Japan had a financial collapse like this it took them 10 years to get out, and all we’re asking for is four, just half as much time as it took them to dig it,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s message was well-received by the crowd, most of whom appeared to be ardent Democrats. Many sported stickers and buttons endorsing the party’s candidates and spoke about how much better Michigan’s economy ran while Clinton was in the White House.
Josephine Huyghe, 84, a retired nurse from Detroit, said she had already cast an absentee ballot for Bernero.
“I voted straight Democrat,” Huyghe said.
While she didn’t expect Clinton’s visit to change the outcome of the governor’s race, she said it was still good to see him come show his support for the party’s candidates. She thought disappointment in President Barack Obama might discourage some Democrats from going to the polls.
“They say, ‘He hasn’t done what he’s supposed to do,”’ Huyghe said. “I say, ‘He’s done what he could.”’
Heideh Rivera, 31, of Detroit, and her husband, Robert, 35, said they also planned to vote for Bernero but were dismayed by what they saw as apathy among many people they knew. The two are studying criminal justice at Wayne State University and said that was particularly true on campus.
“Being an older student, it’s a shame younger people aren’t engaged,” Heideh Rivera said.
Robert Rivera, a Navy veteran, said he thought the recent scandal involving former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick could depress turnout. Kilpatrick pleaded guilty in 2008 to obstruction of justice, admitting he lied at a civil trial to conceal an affair with his chief of staff.
“It creates distrust in government,” Rivera said. “They just don’t care because of incidents like that – certain corrupt politicians.”
Still, the two were looking forward to hearing from Clinton – even though he’s suffered from his own scandals. They described the former president as “very admired” and “very popular.”
The rally shortly after noon Sunday was followed by an event with 15th District Rep. John Dingell at Rackham Auditorium on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. Clinton wraps up the day with an appearance with 7th District Rep. Mark Schauer at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek.
The former president has been busy in recent weeks, campaigning with Democrats in races throughout the country.
You can hear Clinton’s entire speech by clicking here.
Copyright, 2010. WWJ Newsradio 950, All Rights Reserved. AP contributed to this report.