By Carol Cain
UPDATE 4/12: Denise Ilitch Clarifies Pizza Party “Joke”
President Barack Obama is coming to the Motor City for a $1 million pizza party being thrown for him compliments of Denise Ilitch, daughter of Little Caesars’ founders Mike and Marian Ilitch. Ilitch is opening her home April 18 for the fundraiser where movers and shakers are being asked to pony up thousands to add to his re-election coffer while getting a chance to rub shoulders with the most powerful man on the planet.
“I’m honored to have been asked by the Obama campaign to host,” Ilitch said of the event she and husband, Jim Scalici, will hold at their Metro Detroit home. She made the comments on “Michigan Matters” when asked about media reports. Watch the full episode.
When asked what she planned to serve, she said, laughing: “Pizza! But, we’ll be serving it on sterling silver plates!”
The event isn’t tied to Little Caesars headquarters in any way, nor does it mean the family is endorsing the president. It’s strictly a private affair.
And the price of admission isn’t for those on a budget. $40,000 buys access to the cocktail reception, formal photo with Obama and dinner. $10,000 buys dinner and a photo.
The event is the latest twist in the political relationship between Obama and Ilitch, eldest of the Ilitch’s seven children. Mike and Marian also own the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Fox Theatre, Motor City Casino and more. The family is among the wealthiest and most influential in Michigan with an empire worth billions.
Denise Ilitch, a Democrat, is a busy mom of three who is also co-publisher of Ambassador Magazine, runs a jewelry design business and is chairwoman of the University of Michigan regents. When the Illinois senator came to Detroit in 2008 while running for president, Ilitch was among those who greeted him and gave Obama, his wife, Michelle, and Joe Biden their own NHL Championship Detroit Red Wings Jerseys inscribed with their names. She got applause when she said she’d get Obama another jersey for the White House after he won.
Ilitch, who won as a regent at UM in 2008, toyed with the idea of running for governor in 2010. Obama invited her to the White House to discuss the notion which she did. But Ilitch decided the timing wasn’t right.
One person who won’t pass up the chance to attend Obama’s party is Roy Roberts. He’s one of the most successful black executives in the nation who left a comfortable retirement after working at General Motors and other firms to take over as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools when asked by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. “Obama’s done a great job,” said Roberts, who appeared with Ilitch and Charlie Beckham, chairman of the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, on “Michigan Matters.” “Do you know how much it means to be able to go into a classroom and see thousands of kids (of color) and tell them they can be anything they want to be – including being president of the United States!” Roberts said.
Metro Detroit’s known for many things like autos, Motown and being home to some major league pizza chains. Besides Little Caesars, there’s Domino’s Pizza, Hungry Howie’s, Jet’s Pizza and Shield’s Restaurant, Bar and Pizza, just to mention a few. With the presidential race heating up and Michigan native son Mitt Romney, son of the late Gov. George Romney, looking like the GOP nominee, one wonders if Romney knows any pizza chain owners who might want to hold a pizza party for him too. In this billion dollar presidential contest, every dollar helps.
Ilitch, meanwhile, is busy with dinner preparations, which will also include some other entrees, but took a second to add a final thought about her dinner guest and her family baseball team. “I want to present Obama with a Detroit Tigers’ World Championship jersey after he wins re-election,” she said of the Tigers’ and Obama’s chances of winning their contests that will conclude this fall.
Carol Cain is the Emmy winning Senior Producer and Host of “Michigan Matters” airing 11:30 am Sundays on CBS 62. She writes about business and politics in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.