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The Politics of Popularity: Quien Es Mas Macho? Ricardo Montalban or Carsten Hohnke?

This past Sunday, the half of AnnArbor.com’s editorial board that participated in the recent endorsement-a-palooza threw their support behind the candidacy of Independent Newcombe Clark in the Fifth Ward City Council race.

In this new world of journalism-on-the-cheap, “linking” to and “lifting” from the work of other news outlets often passes for “original news content.” Thus, instead of writing an original political endorsement, AnnArbor.com simply “linked” to a political endorsement posted to the web site of the Oakland Press. AnnArbor.com visitors were left wondering why AnnArbor.com was throwing its support behind some guy running for the Keego Harbor City Council. AnnArbor.com’s endorsement was subsequently “updated,” and Newcombe Clark’s name substituted for that of the Keego Harbor candidate’s, and “Ann Arbor” inserted wherever appropriate. [A2P Notes: On a more serious note, have a look at how credible news sources handle changes to their online postings. This article about Representative John Dingell was posted to the New York Times web site on October 20, 2010 and corrected, yes corrected—not "updated"—twice.]

Yes, my fellow politicos, the result of the AnnArbor.com endorsement interview process was three thumbs up for Clark, a VP of a Detroit-based commercial real estate company. There are, of course, six members of the AnnArbor.com editorial board. Half of the members are the Three Musketeers who run the company: El Presidente Matt Kraner, Executive VP of Rubbing Elbows With Potential Advertisers Laurel Champion, and Kontent King Tony Dearing. The other members of the editorial board are three well-respected, highly-prized “community members.” According to the endorsement of Clark posted to AnnArbor.com, David Mielke, Bob Guenzel and Marsha Chamberlin “did not participate in the endorsement interviews and were not involved in these endorsement decisions.” No doubt all three were sick the day the editorial interviews were held. It was either that, or the community members who serve on the editorial board of AnnArbor.com are really little more than community arm-candy. You decide. 

Carsten Hohnke, you may know (or not), thumbed his nose at AnnArbor.com by refusing to participate in the candidate debate facilitated by Tony Dearing. I don’t know what Hohnke was afraid of. Dearing’s performance reminded me of the 2008 SNL skit that lampooned the treatment of then Senator Obama by the media. First question: “Senator Obama. Do you want a pillow?”

Tony Dearing: “Mr. Clark, do you favor blue or black sweater vests?”

Well, maybe Hohnke was actually afraid of striking out on one of the softball questions. 

Tony Dearing: “Mr. Hohnke, would you explain exactly how to pronounce your name?”

Hohnke: “Well, um….uh….it’s not the word used to put down, um….you know….unhip white people. In German it means…um….uh…. It’s quite simple to pronounce, actually….um…much easier than Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung which, in German, means…uh….”

Tony Dearing: “Thank you. Time’s up. Mr. Clark, the same question to you.”

So, while Hohnke sat out the AnnArbor.com debate, Republican John Floyd and Newcombe Clark answered Dearing’s trite, simplistic questions earnestly. So, maybe AnnArbor.com endorsed Clark because Hohnke thumbed his nose at their debate? Ostensibly it was because Hohnke demonstrated little healthy skepticism about the financial impact of the Police-Court facility on the City’s fiscal stability, voted against the Moravian and Heritage Row development projects, and sees no problem siphoning money away from the DDA to pay for things like beer and schnitzel, and the perpetually over-budget Police-Court building.

Of course, in the AnnArbor.com endorsement of John Hieftje Kraner, Dearing and Champion conveniently overlooked the facts that Hieftje voted against the Moravian, that Hieftje supported the bright idea to skim money from the DDA, and that FOIAed emails revealed that Hieftje allowed himself to be blackmailed into voting for the Police-Court facility. Evidently, at AnnArbor.com, friends never hold friends accountable.  

On Sunday, shortly after AnnArbor.com endorsed Clark, Hohnke and his friends decided to rough up Newcombe and hit him right where it hurts, his popularity. Quick as a bunny, Hohnke sent out a statement in which he announced the undying love and support of a coven of local Ann Arbor Demublicans. The message to the readers of AnnArbor.com was clear: Carsten Hohnke is way more popular than Newcombe Clark. So there! AnnArbor.com’s government reporter neglected to point out that Hohnke was ever-so-humbly accepting the support of many personal friends. The dog-bites-man piece also neglected to point out the most obvious fact of all: Democrats were backing the Democratic candidate. 

Several of the local Democrats bravely backing the Democratic candidate in the Fifth Ward are members of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board on which Newcombe Clark presently sits—a seat which he has promised to give up, if elected. Clark sees it a conflict of interest for a City Council member to sit on the DDA.  

Hohnke’s public statement in which he brags about the endorsements of DDA Chairwoman Joan Lowenstein, immediate past Chairman John Splitt, Roger Hewitt, Keith Orr, Leah Gunn, John Hieftje and City Council member Sandi Smith amounts to an attempt to “Jenny Hall” Newcombe; they’re trying to humiliate him in public, much the same way former DDA Board member Jennifer Santi Hall was humiliated in public before she was pushed off the DDA Board. In response, according to the same AnnArbor.com piece, “Clark released a statement criticizing his peers on the DDA for engaging in ‘such blatant politicizing’ and ‘desperate fourth-quarter fouls.’” Clark also said, “If some of my fellow board members think endorsing candidates for council under the title of their appointment is in the best interest of our [the DDA's] mission and duty to serve downtown, they are free to their opinion. I personally disagree with the practice and question the appropriateness….”

Never people to pass up the opportunity to have the last word, several of the DDA Board members who came out in support of Hohnke reportedly issued statements in response to Clark’s condemnation. The statements were originally published in L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican. A2Politico thanks Father Guido Sarducci for this translation from the Latin:

First Ward Council member and DDA Board member Sandi Smith issued a 135-page “white paper” written by fellow First Ward Council member Sabra Briere who, as usual, was passing off the work of others as her own. Smith accuses Newcombe Clark of “having no understanding of the DDA’s current conflict of interest policy whereby conflicts of interest are actually encouraged.”

In her statement, DDA Board Chairwoman Lowenstein points out that as a “former City Council member, nay a popular former City Council member, better yet, an extremely popular, well-liked, beautiful, (perhaps stunning would be more accurate?), sweet-natured City Council member, she was urging pea-brained Fifth Ward voters (Carsten, excepting) who didn’t have the good taste to live in the Second Ward, where she lives, not to give in to the ‘whiners’ for Petey’s sake.” Lowenstein included a candid photo of herself rolling her eyes at the entire Fifth Ward along with her statement.     

County Commissioner and DDA Board member Leah Gunn, in her statement in response to Clark writes “how very, very important it is to support all fellow Democrats.” She lists several famous Democrats, whom Gunn claims, should attribute their political “success” to her support—prison sentences notwithstanding. The list includes Democrats Webster Hubbell, Albert G. Bustamante, James A. Traficant Jr., Marion Barry and Daniel Rostenkowski. When asked why she’s not supporting fellow Democratic County Commissioner Kristin Judge in her bid for re-election, Gunn explains that “of course she is supporting Judge’s candidacy, just on the inside, in her heart of hearts. No one,” Gunn insisted, “should interpret her prolonged attempts to bully and undermine Judge via email as anything except the most stalwart support.”

DDA Board member Keith Orr, owner of the Aut Bar, in his statement, which was crafted for him by First Ward Council member Sandi Smith, writes, “Sandi says Newcombe dresses better, and looks cuter in a sweater vest than either Sandi or I. Damn him. Furthermore, endorsing Carsten is not blatent politicizing. It’s more like glitzy, gaudy, screaming politicizing. Please refer to the DDA’s Post-It Note ethics policy that actually encourages glitzy, gaudy, screaming politicizing.”

Finally, John Hieftje in “his” statement writes, “Newcombe Clark has no understanding of the DDA’s current conflict of interest policy wereby conflicts are actually encouraged by me. Furthermore, I urge Fifth Ward voters not to give into the whiners. I can tell everyone how very, very important it is to support all fellow Democrats. Lastly, it’s a sad truth that Newcombe looks cuter in a sweater vest than either Keith Orr or my good friend Sandi Smith.”

Tomorrow, expect to read that AnnArbor.com Kontent King Tony Dearing has posted a longish piece in which he will write that the “members of the editorial board who really count stand firmly behind AnnArbor.com’s endorsement of Carsten Hohnke.” The piece will be “updated” several hours after it is originally posted, and “Newcombe Clark” inserted where appropriate. 

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