I got word this past weekend that there was a secret party taking place in downtown Ann Arbor, a posh event inside an upscale restaurant. The windows of the restaurant, I was told, had been “blacked out,” and there was security outside. The man who had rented it out, according to the person who first reached out to me, was apparently a wealthy politician who wanted to celebrate his wife’s birthday in private, far away from the prying eyes of his constituents, who were, at the very same moment, assembled on Main Street, demanding that he take immediate action to help the people of Flint.
As is generally the case these days, it didn’t take too long for word about what had taken place inside this lavish party to leak out. Within a few days, I’d be hearing about the ostentatious decorations, the banners, and the birthday cake, which, if you can believe it, was made to look like a diamond necklace draped over a Nordstrom’s box.
[Since I first posted this story, images like the one above, showing the cake in question, have surfaced.]
As I wasn’t there to see it myself, firsthand, I won’t name names. So you’ll just have to guess who the wealthy politician was.
I debated publishing this. People, after all, deserve their private lives, and no one can, or should, work around the clock. And, God knows, if people were outside my home, protesting day and night, and making my wife miserable, the last thing I’d probably want to do is cancel her birthday party.
Had I been in a similar situation, though, I’m relatively certain that I would have forgone a party, asking friends instead to give money to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund. “You know what,” I’d probably say, “as much as I love my wife, I just don’t think that we should be getting drunk and dancing around a big, creamy-frosting-filled Nordstrom’s box right now.” But, then again, I have a little bit of my soul left. And, perhaps more importantly, I’m not so delusional as to think that something like this wouldn’t get out.
Ann Arbor is just too small of a town to keep secrets like this… A few days ago, when Governor Snyder was heckled at Old Town Tavern for his role in the poisoning of Flint, I heard about it almost immediately from four different people, all of whom were there at the time, in the room with him. Things like this aren’t easily hidden. Caterers, bartenders, and delivery people all have cell phones, and they’re not stupid people. They know what happened in Flint, and, when they see our elected representatives throwing big, secret parties behind covered windows, instead of cooperating with investigators, or on the ground in Flint, talking with the parents of children with lead poisoning, you can be sure they’re going to talk.
You don’t have to hire two different PR firms to know that, just days after promising to focus all of your attention on solving the problems that you helped to create in Flint, you shouldn’t try to pull off a secret party as though nothing has changed.
But our elected officials clearly don’t care about us. We aren’t really people in their eyes. We’re problems to be managed while they push their agendas forward. If we’re not helping them, we’re just obstacles to be maneuvered around.
In the whole scheme of things, having a party behind covered windows with a bunch of rich folks, eating expensive cake while poor people suffer, probably isn’t that big of a deal. Compared with lying about water quality, and encouraging people to keep drinking poison, it’s really inconsequential. I think, however, it illustrates just how little the people we elect to look after our interests here in Michigan really care about us. While they may give a good speech or two, vowing to work diligently and make things right, all they really care about is moving the needle on public opinion enough so that they can keep going, doing exactly what they were doing before.
I like to think, if I had just played a pivotal role in one of the biggest public poisonings in our nation’s history, I might be a little more conscious of my actions and how they might come across to those who either lost family members to Legionnaires’ disease, or will likely spend their entire lives worrying about their children’s health and how their futures will be affected by lead poisoning. To have such a party, given the context of what’s going on in Flint, not only demonstrates a complete lack of decency, but also levels of stupidity and contempt that are truly breathtaking.
And, before you start writing your irate comments, no, I don’t begrudge this politician’s wife her expensive cake. I just think this demonstrates yet once again the contempt this administration has for the people of Michigan. To think that they can continue on, as though nothing has changed, is absolutely insane to me. In an ideal world, a leader confronted by a situation like this would have immediately moved his/her office to Flint, and would have made sure people knew he/she was fighting every day, from sun up to sun down, to get water trucks on every corner and medical care for every man, woman and child. A decent leader would have gone on every news channel available to them, and demanded that the President come to Flint, and see firsthand what these people are dealing with. A decent leader wouldn’t be at a hidden party in Ann Arbor, counting on the people of America to send individual bottles of clean water to the people of Flint. And I sure as hell don’t think a good, responsible leader would have told people as late as December that the water of Flint was likely safe to drink, knowing full well that it wasn’t, or deny that there was a link between the Flint River and Legionnaires’ disease for an entire year, when they’d known since last March that they were linked.
All of that aside, one hopes this big, lavish party was as fun as hell for all involved… as it may be the last one some of these folks see for a long, long time.
update: OK things have apparently taken off a bit since I posted this last night. Most notably, my friend Amber Fellows did some detective work, searching through the social media accounts of local cake shops, and found the above photo. Then, having seen that, the folks at MLive called up the cake shop in question and began asking questions. Heather Anne Leavitt, who made the cake, told them that she had no idea who the cake was for. “I had no idea, like seriously no idea,” she told them. “We delivered it to the West End Grill and put it down and I’m taking photos of the cake. Then Claudia, who was also working on the cake with me, looks up and sees Rick Snyder on all the photos in the room, and so we put two and two together. We knew that renting out West End Grill is not a cheap thing to do on a Saturday night, but we have a lot of high end clients. We just didn’t know this one was the Governor.” So, yes, it’s now public knowledge that party in question was thrown by Rick Snyder for the First Lady of Michigan, and that it was held at the West End Grill…. Drip, drip, drip… Little by little, ike dirty water from a tap in Flint, the truth keeps coming out.
update: OK, the story has now gone global thanks to the folks at Wonkette. Here’s how it begins.
So let’s say you’re the governor of a state where a city of 100,000 souls has been in the news because you poisoned the water, and where roughly 9,000 children have been exposed to lead, a neurotoxin for which there is no safe level at all. Let us say further that it’s becoming increasingly clear that your administration caused the disaster through a combination of criminal ineptitude and malignant neglect. While we’re at it, let’s say that the people who have been poisoned are for the most part poor and black, while you, the state’s governor, are rich and white. You know what professional public relations firms (which in your case you have got — two of ’em, in fact) would probably suggest you not do? Throw a lavish birthday party for your wife with a custom-made birthday cake made to look like packages from Chanel, Tiffany, and Nordstrom, draped with a jeweled necklace, with a fancy-schmancy Michael Kors handbag, also made of cake. Just an idea.
And yet that appears to be exactly how Rick Snyder, the Republican governor of Michigan, celebrated his wife Sue’s birthday at a pricey restaurant last Saturday. Michigan blogger Mark Maynard has some of the details of the alleged goings-on, which we will very responsibly note come from unnamed sources (who were dead on in describing the cake). Maynard doesn’t name the restaurant, but Mlive’s Jessica Webster confirms it was one of the Snyders’ favorite restaurants, Ann Arbor’s West End Grill; its windows were reportedly blacked out so that the commoners wouldn’t see what their betters were getting up to in there…
update: Susan Fecteau keeps the cake meme going on Ann Arbor.
update: Now Gawker has the story as well. Here’s their big takeaway.
Sometimes urban crises are accidents. Sometimes they’re caused by gross incompetence. And sometimes they’re the result of neglect that borders on malice, a true disdain for a group of people who live somewhere else. A wealthy white man feeding a Michael Kors-themed cake to his wealthy white wife while poor black people 50 miles away have to wait in lines for clean water deliveries makes it a little clearer which kind of crisis we’re dealing with here.