The Ann Arbor Chronicle » University of Michigan it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 City Delays Parking Lease with University Tue, 19 Aug 2014 03:48:12 +0000 Chronicle Staff A two-year extension on a University of Michigan lease of three city of Ann Arbor parking lots at Fuller Park has been delayed by the city council.

The council’s unanimous vote to postpone consideration of the lease agreement came at its Aug. 18, 2014 meeting, after a brief discussion. The council will take up the item again at its first meeting in October – on Oct. 6. The lease came to the council with a recommendation of approval from the park advisory commission, given at its July 15, 2014 meeting. The council now wants PAC to take another look at the agreement.

Fuller Park, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map of parking lots at Fuller Park that are leased to the University of Michigan.

The existing lease expires on Aug. 31, 2014. Given that the lease is expiring, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked about the implications of postponing until October. Mayor John Hieftje indicated that the lease renewal came to the council later than it should have.

The three lots are: (1) the parking lot south of Fuller Road, next to the railroad tracks (Lot A); (2) the paved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot B); and (3) the unpaved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot C). The lots are used by UM during restricted hours.

The city has leased Lot A to UM since 1993. Lots B and C have been leased since 2009.

Annual revenue of this lease would be $78,665, and will be included as part of the parks and recreation general fund budget. [.pdf of proposed lease agreement] [.pdf of staff report]

The hours that UM can use these lots are stipulated in the agreement:

  • Lot A: 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • Lot B (paved lot): 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, beginning the day after Labor Day through the Friday before Memorial Day, excluding holidays.
  • Lot C (unpaved lot): 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.

At PAC’s July 15 meeting when the lease was recommended, parks and recreation manager Colin Smith noted that the revenue from these three lots is significant for the parks and recreation operating budget. The current agreement – which was approved by the council in 2009 and extended by two administrative renewals – is essentially the same as the agreement that will expire, Smith told PAC.

The main purpose of the lots is for the parks, Smith explained. That’s reflected in the hours when UM can use the lots – on weekdays, prior to 4-5 p.m. The outdoor pool and soccer fields don’t need the quantity of parking during the winter or off-season. “It’s an asset within the parks department that we can either have sit there, or we can lease it for a significant amount of revenue that obviously helps us provide other programs,” he said. If the city doesn’t lease those parking lots, “I am absolutely certain that people will park in it anyway,” Smith added.

Two residents who had raised concerns about the lease at PAC’s July 15 meeting – Rita Mitchell and George Gaston – also addressed the city council on the same issue on Aug. 18. Their commentary is reported in The Chronicle’s live updates of that meeting.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

]]> 0
Ingalls Mall Mon, 14 Jul 2014 21:54:58 +0000 Ken Varnum A Schlissel sighting! [new University of Michigan president] [photo]

]]> 0
Greenbelt Communications Plan In Progress Sun, 13 Jul 2014 15:59:21 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (July 3, 2014): Commissioners spent most of their relatively brief July meeting in closed session to discuss land acquisition.

John Ramsburgh, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

John Ramsburgh serves on the greenbelt advisory commission’s communications committee. (Photos by the writer.)

The main discussion in open session focused on an update from GAC’s communications committee. The committee has recommended creating an internship for the city’s greenbelt program, drawing from students at the University of Michigan. John Ramsburgh, a GAC member who works for UM’s College of Literature, Science & the Arts, said that his unit could provide office space and resources for the intern.

The work would entail a range of projects, including collaboration with city GIS staff to develop driving or biking maps of greenbelt-protected properties, and drafting Twitter posts and Facebook updates that would promote the greenbelt program. After other commissioners reached consensus to support this approach, Ramsburgh said he’d post the opening with the hope of selecting an intern for the fall semester.

Also at the July 3 meeting, Ginny Trocchio – who provides staff support for the greenbelt program – told commissioners that the city had recently closed a deal to purchase development rights for about 20 acres along Zeeb Road in Webster Township. The transaction brings the total of greenbelt-protected property to a bit over 4,300 acres.

Communications Plan

John Ramsburgh gave an update on work of GAC’s communications committee. Other members are Stephanie Buttrey and Jean Cares. He reported that committee members and Ginny Trocchio, who provides staff support for GAC, met with the city’s communication liaisons to talk about creating a comprehensive communications plan and facilitating outreach for the greenbelt program.

The communications staff described various methods that can be used, including the city’s email distribution system, press advisories, and social media accounts. There’s a great opportunity for the greenbelt program to increase its media presence both through the city’s parks and recreation unit, but also through GAC’s own individual efforts, he said.

One idea is to post a position for an intern at the University of Michigan, with preference for someone in the program in the environment and communications studies, or someone who has background in social media.

The intern would do work outlined by GAC’s communications committee, including:

  • Research other local groups who might have interest in the greenbelt;
  • Collaborate with city GIS staff to develop driving or biking maps of greenbelt-protected properties;
  • Research other farmland preservation programs across the country to see what’s working or not;
  • Draft Twitter feeds and Facebook updates that could be passed along to staff;
  • Develop a calendar of events of greenbelt activities;
  • Help volunteer at events that can highlight GAC’s work.

Ramsburgh said the hope is to post the position through the internship website of UM’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and perhaps fill the position in the fall. Ramsburgh had volunteered to post it, and serve as the liaison since there’s space in his unit at UM to accommodate an intern. [Ramsburgh is a development officer for LS&A.] His office could provide a place for the intern to work, and other resources.

Shannon Brines, Stephanie Buttrey, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Greenbelt advisory commissioners Shannon Brines and Stephanie Buttrey. Buttrey serves on GAC’s communications committee.

Trocchio reported that Tweets and Facebook posts can be drafted in advance, then scheduled to be posted once a day or once a week. That way, people are regularly getting updates about the greenbelt, she said. “It’s just a way to really increase our presence.”

Catherine Riseng asked if this intern was envisioned as an ongoing position, or just a one-semester job. Ramsburgh replied that there’s enough work for a one-semester internship. But considering the grassroots groundswell of support within the university and student community for the kinds of things that the greenbelt program is doing, “this might be something that would become an ongoing internship,” he said. GAC could develop an ongoing relationship with UM’s School of Natural Resources & Environment, or LS&A’s program in the environment – programs where there are students who want to get involved in this kind of work.

Ramsburgh said it wouldn’t be good to set it up to have regular social media and other activity for a period, “then, all of a sudden, stop.” One of the things that the committee would like the intern to do is to compile a media list that’s unique to GAC. It would complement the city’s media list, but would include national interest groups that would like to follow what Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program is doing, he said.

So the internship would be set up to handle the research and background projects first, he said, then move slowly into other work so that they don’t set up expectations that can’t be met in an ongoing way.

Ramsburgh also cautioned that there’s no guarantee that students would apply for the internship. If that happens, GAC might want to approach other institutions in southeast Michigan, he said.

Commissioners didn’t take a formal vote, but reached consensus for Ramsburgh to proceed and post the internship for this fall.

Staff Update

Ginny Trocchio gave a brief update, noting that the city had recently closed on the acquisition of about 20 acres on Zeeb Road, north of Joy Road. It’s now part of a block of land that’s been previously protected with greenbelt funds, and brings the total of greenbelt-protected property to just over 4,300 acres.

Archer Christian, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

GAC member Archer Christian.

By way of background, the Ann Arbor city council – at its Sept. 3, 2013 meeting – had approved the purchase of development rights for the Jane Sheldon and Robert Wolf property in Webster Township. The approval had been for an amount not to exceed $82,067 using funds from the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage. That amount included $43,200 toward the purchase price of $47,500.

The city also paid for due diligence and closing costs, and $23,867 toward an endowment for potential future legal and enforcement expenses. Webster Township contributed $2,000 toward the purchase. Other funds included $2,300 from a contribution that Cherry Republic made to the city.

GAC had recommended the deal at its May 2, 2013 meeting.

Land Acquisition

Most meetings of the greenbelt advisory commission include a closed session to discuss possible land acquisitions. The topic of land acquisition is one allowed as an exemption by the Michigan Open Meetings Act for a closed session.

On July 3, commissioners met in a closed session that lasted about 30 minutes.

When they emerged, they did not take any votes related to land acquisition.

Next scheduled meeting: Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 at 4:30 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date] The meetings are open to the public and include two opportunities for public commentary.

Present: Peter Allen, Shannon Brines, Stephanie Buttrey, Archer Christian, Jennifer Fike, John Ramsburgh, Catherine Riseng (chair), Christopher Taylor. Staff: Ginny Trocchio.

Absent: Jean Cares.

The Chronicle survives in part through regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of publicly-funded entities like the city’s greenbelt program. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

]]> 1
UM Diag Mon, 07 Jul 2014 19:27:26 +0000 John Weise The sudden downpour has not stopped the slackliners. [photo]

]]> 0
County Helps SPARK with Federal Grant Wed, 21 May 2014 23:46:57 +0000 Chronicle Staff Washtenaw County is applying for a $940,000 federal grant on behalf of Ann Arbor SPARK, the local economic development agency. Funds would be used to help redevelop the former General Motors Willow Run Powertrain plant in Ypsilanti Township for use as a connected vehicle testing facility.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant is available through the National Infrastructure Investments Program of the U.S. Department of Transportation. SPARK asked that the county’s office of community & economic development (OCED) act as the lead applicant and fiscal agent. OCED already submitted the grant application – on April 25, 2014. According to a staff memo, “due to the grant application deadline, it was not possible to bring the matter before the [board of commissioners] for approval prior to application submission.”

At its May 21, 2014 meeting, the county board of commissioners took an initial vote to authorize the county’s involvement, with final action expected on June 4. The project is a partnership with SPARK, the University of Michigan, the redevelopment firm Walbridge Aldinger and Ypsilanti Township, among others. According to a staff memo, the facility could lead to the creation of up to 7,800 new jobs in the skilled trades and research sectors. [.pdf of staff memo and resolution]

This brief was filed from the boardroom at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

]]> 0
UM Diag Fri, 16 May 2014 14:57:13 +0000 John Weise Historic and iconic University of Michigan flag pole restoration is underway. [photo]

]]> 0
Thompson Street Thu, 08 May 2014 15:28:37 +0000 John Weise With students gone, University of Michigan is wasting no time getting started on the West Quad renovation. [photo]

]]> 0
UM: Salaries Fri, 25 Apr 2014 17:47:49 +0000 Chronicle Staff The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a letter that University of Michigan faculty sent to UM regents on April 20, questioning the high salaries of university administrators. From the letter: “The University is in desperate and urgent need of fiscal reform. Arresting the steep increases in salaries to top administrators, reforming the secretive bonus culture of the Fleming administration building, terminating the toxic AST project, and refocusing the attention of the University on its core mission of teaching, research, and service should save the University many tens of millions of dollars per year. We urge you to work with incoming President-Elect Schlissel to introduce and implement these necessary reforms as soon as practically possible.” The 40-page document includes a detailed salary analysis and list of request from regents. The Chronicle of Higher Education article is behind a paywall. Here’s a full text of the letter: [.pdf of open letter to UM regents]

]]> 0
Council Echoes Planning Commission on Advice to UM Tue, 08 Apr 2014 05:16:57 +0000 Chronicle Staff A resolution recommending that the University of Michigan collaborate with the city of Ann Arbor on the future development of the former Edwards Brothers property at 2500-2550 South State Street has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council. The resolution had been put forward by the city planning commission, which also approved the recommendation.

The property in question is located immediately adjacent to existing UM athletic facilities. The university is purchasing the 16.7-acre property, following the Ann Arbor city council’s decision on Feb. 24, 2014 not to exercise its right of first refusal to buy the site.

The city planning commission passed the same resolution at its March 18, 2014 meeting and forwarded it to the city council.

The resolution was drafted by planning manager Wendy Rampson based on previous discussions by the planning commission and city council. [.pdf of resolution as amended at March 18 planning commission meeting]

The one resolved clause states:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Council and Ann Arbor City Planning Commission request that The Regents of The University of Michigan and President authorize University staff to meet with City representatives to collaborate on issues related to future development of the South Athletic Campus area, including, but not limited to:

  • Exploring the creation of one or more parcels fronting South State Street to be developed, preferably privately, for complementary uses adjacent to the South Athletic Campus that also follow the South State Street plan recommendations;
  • Discussing options for the relocation of park-and-ride facilities as the South Athletic Campus develops; and
  • Discussing the opportunities for a future pedestrian and vehicular connection between South Main Street and South State Street via the planned Oakbrook Drive extension through the South Athletic Campus site.

At the planning commission’s March 18 meeting, Rampson said she’s already shared a draft of the resolution with UM planner Sue Gott and Jim Kosteva, the university’s director of community relations.

The city council voted not to exercise the city of Ann Arbor's right of first refusal on the Edwards Brothers property, at a special session of the council on Feb. 24, 2014.

The city council voted down a resolution that would have authorized Ann Arbor’s right of first refusal on the Edwards Brothers Malloy property, at a special session of the council on Feb. 24, 2014. That will allow the University of Michigan to purchase the property unimpeded. The council is asking UM to collaborate with the city on the property’s development.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

]]> 0
In It For The Money: Presidential Stinkburger Mon, 07 Apr 2014 15:29:41 +0000 David Erik Nelson The President of the United States visited Ann Arbor on April 2. If you want to know what he said, you can read a faithful transcript right here, or just watch the unedited remarks.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

But none of that puts you in the room with the PotUS. Hearing the same four presidential soundbites about Zingerman’s and minimum wage played over and over again on the radio certainly gives you the gist of what was said; none of it was earth shattering.

In fact, I’d wager that most Chronicle readers could generate a fairly accurate facsimile of the remarks made by the PotUS working strictly from First Principles. You know what politicians are like: Y’all a good looking crowd! God bless America! Handshake-babykiss-SMILE! You know what excites East Coasters about Ann Arbor: Zingerman’s! Sportsball! Wolverines! And you know how PotUS stands on the minimum wage: Raise it!

None of that puts you in the room.

And you’re likely inclined to say: So what? What’s the use of being in the room? What’s the bother of showing up in a specific time and place to see something that’ll be on YouTube ten minutes after it happens, to be watched at my leisure? Hell, Dave: Why did you bother wasting so many hours to be in that room? Don’t you have better things to do with your time?

And, while I do have better things (or at least better paid things) to do with my time, there’s always value in being in the room. In abstract, there’s value because being in the room is The Job. It’s what I’ve said I will do for you: I will show the hell up, and tell you what the hell I saw. This is the baseline contract any newspaper should have with its readers.

And specifically, on this occasion, there was value in being in the room because some things do not come across in articles and the op-eds and the clips and soundbites – not even in the unedited audio or video. There are intangibles – including all of the things that are outside the frame of the camera, too far away for the mics to pick up, or of little interest to the reporters on hand.

In The Room With The President

Appropriately enough, the venue for the visit was the basketball court at the top of the University of Michigan Intramural Building. This is an old building – constructed in 1927-38 – and the basketball court is a general purpose gymnasium: no bleachers, no built in hoops. Enormous windows allow excellent natural light, and the balls get dribbled on maple floors (which UM notes are original, and somewhat oddly constructed). All told, the innocuous IM Building is a goddamned fortress. It’s an open box with good light and excellent acoustics.

April 2, 2014 IM building on the University of Michigan campus: U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the assembly.

April 2, 2014 IM building on the University of Michigan campus: U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the assembly.

About half the space – the half with a conspicuous maize-and-blue MICHIGAN painted on the brickwork – had been prepped for remarks from the PotUS. It was cordoned off, then broken into two roughly equal-sized seating areas: “blue ticket” to the left, and “red ticket” to the right.

The red ticket section had seating, and was populated by Local Dignitaries (the mayor, UM Regents, Jon Conyers, a prominent metro-area family of personal-injury attorneys, etc.) and People Who Deserved Chairs (several UM sports stars, folks whose jackets prominently advertised their labor union affiliations, a voluble Detroiter in a track-suit who didn’t like banjo music and identified all of these people for me, etc.) The student section offered a row of portable bleachers against the wall beneath a sign reading OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL – which, when you think about it, doesn’t really have much to do with minimum wage, unless you’re really stretching it – and the rest of the space was standing-room-only.

These two sections embraced a little stage and podium for the PotUS, which was backed by another set of bleachers – packed with hand-picked UM students – and a very, very large American flag. In case you’re wondering: Yes, the students in the bleachers behind the PotUS were markedly more attractive than those who had seemingly randomly packed the bleachers in the “student section.”

The ethno-racial and gender breakdown of both bleachers and the student crowd seemed to be balanced, although I got the distinct sense that neither is a good match for the current race distribution at the university. That’s a topic for some other column, some other time (likely written by some other guy). This was all encircled by ring of steel made of the sort of portable railings I’ve seen used for ad-hoc cattle pens.

Orbiting all of this was a crescent of media. Some of the media were held on two risers (one directly opposite the PotUS, one to the right, sorta-kinda mirroring the student bleachers). These were crowded with thickets of tripods and cameramen. A roped off section of folding tables was packed with media folks crouched over lap tops. The rest of us journalistic rabble crowded at the cattle railing.

A very nicely dressed person wearing a “volunteer” badge told me that 1,400 people were in attendance. I have no idea of that number included media and staff. If not, then give that number a healthy bump of at least 10 percent or more.

Frankly, I have a lot of questions about much of the media. For example, of the folks like me crowded at the rail, very few were operating cameras, or holding recorders, or taking any sort of notes, or using cameras to do anything other than attempt to snap a selfie of themselves and the PotUS – who was no less than 65 feet away, standing behind a podium on a raised stage, and busy giving advice to college kids.

I'd totally planned to take a sort of half-joking, post-ironic selfie with PotUS in the background. But watching all these other folks do exactly this same thing  (1) drove home how painfully unoriginal my originality is; and (2) was totally, totally mortifying. So here's a photo of my press pass instead.

I’d totally planned to take a sort of half-joking, post-ironic selfie with PotUS in the background. But watching all these other folks do exactly this same thing (1) drove home how painfully unoriginal my originality is; and (2) was totally, totally mortifying. So here’s a photo of my press pass instead.

The point here, mostly, is that I’ve seen this crowd in other media accounts described as “raucous students.” And I just want to make the point that much of it (certainly in terms of floor space) was not students.

And although the students were exuberant, they were remarkably orderly given the circumstances. The lag between the audience load-in and the President’s actual remarks was at least 90 minutes, during which the organizers played looped, tinny banjo music at extremely high volume.

No one liked that music, and while the folks near me (I was on the rail behind the Local Dignitaries and Other Chair Sitters) were starting to get vocal on this topic, the close-packed students were happy as clams in a very crowded kettle.

The PotUS Is Such A Dad

What is the PotUS? For one thing, apparently, he is a Dad. And I don’t just mean to say he’s the biological father to Sasha and Malia; there hasn’t been childless PotUS since James K. Polk (who, Batmanishly, took on a nephew as his ward – so you could argue there’s never been a childless PotUS). I’m talking about the Nature of the sitting PotUS. George W. Bush was a “Cool” Big Brother – which is to say half rake, half bully. His father was a Study Hall Proctor. Reagan was, obviously, a Hollywood Actor. Clinton? He was an Elvis. And the current PotUS is a total Dad.

The PotUS arrived in his shirtsleeves, because he was ready to Get Down to Business and Hit Us with Some Straight Talk about wages and stuff. The PotUS complimented us as good-looking, and commended our work ethic and academic achievements. He seemed to legitimately admire the quality of the prominent sportsball players in the audience, which pleased the audience a great deal.

Then, like somebody’s dad, the PotUS cajolingly admonished us to sit down – which might have seemed sort of cryptic to home-viewers, because the crowd was cropped out of the shot. Everyone had given a standing ovation upon his entrance, and then remained standing. Many folks were standing on their rickety folding chairs – which any dad will tell you is dangerous, and bad for the chairs. C’mon, guys; settle down. I’ve gotta talk to you about something important.

This was all in the first three minutes and thirty seconds of his speech.

He went on to tell an anecdote about his lunch (Zingerman’s! ZINGERMAN’S!!!). He gave some really legit advice on properly structuring your college debt, and suggested that it’s important always to be polite when arguing with folks about politics. He may have advised us to neither be a borrower nor a lender, and to our own selves be true – I’d need to double check my recording.

Such dad-ish digressions were peppered throughout the presentation. The speech was taken up by long stretches during which the PotUS was clearly working crisply from the prompters and notes – stretches indistinguishable from every speech of his you’ve seen on video. And then we’d hit one of these sparkly little patches where the PotUS could be your pal’s dad, driving you to the movies in the family minivan, periodically craning back to explain something about compounding interest, or the infield fly rule, or why you always want to be sure your tires are at the appropriate PSI.

You know, standard issue dad small talk.

But the most dad-ish run in his remarks starts around 25 minutes in to the speech. The PotUS is talking about GOP economic policies, which seem to be in a rut: The same ideas stuck on repeat, despite being neither popular nor effective. He gets a little salty about the most recent attempt to repeal Obamacare: “Because they haven’t tired that fifty times!” And then about a minute later PotUS drops in a joke comparing these stuck-on-repeat GOP tactics to the film “Groundhog Day” – “except it isn’t funny.”

Now, I believe that line was scripted – and maybe not as a joke, precisely. He really seemed legitimately peeved at that point, just as he had with the “fifty times” jab a minute earlier. But the Groundhog Day joke turned into an actual laugh line for the audience – one that got a really disproportionate response. It really landed.

And you could sense the PotUS becoming emboldened, in the way dads will. You can see it in the video, a hint of it, but there in the room, you could feel the antic energy gathering. Even from 65 feet away, standing behind the crowd, I could feel a dad joke coming. It was like the portentous pressure front that precedes a tornado; my ears popped, wasps went nuts, squirrels fled, dogs barked at locked doors.

“If they tried to sell this sandwich at Zingerman’s,” the PotUS said, struggling to suppress his glee, “they’d have to call it [tiny pause] the Stinkburger.

I’m quite confident that somewhere in Washington D.C., at 3:19 p.m. on April 2, Sasha and Malia found themselves spontaneously rolling their eyes. “Oh no,” they gasped, miles apart, yet in perfect unison, “Somewhere, Dad’s trying to be ‘funny.’ ”

The crowd in the IM building was perplexed, thinking Did the President of the United States just say “Stinkburger”? I know this, because the two cameraless-notepadless-compterless-recorderless “media” people behind me – “mean girls” from central casting in pastel blouses and dark pant suits, who’d been snarking throughout the preceding 28 minutes – said aloud exactly that:

Ohmagawd. Did he just say ‘Stinkburger’?!

Frankly, they were just saying what the rest of us were thinking – at least at that moment. The other 28 minutes of their chatter was all just catty bullshit about people, places, and outfits I couldn’t conceivably have cared less about. But in that moment, we were all together, all of us, from the most exalted student athlete to the lowliest scribbler, joined of a single mind, wondering:

Did the guy who makes the drone kill list just say “Stinkburger”?

True to form for a dad, our chagrin did not dissuade the President of the United States and Leader of the Free World. There was joke there somewhere, and he could feel it. From across the crowded room, I could see him groping for that laugh-line.

So he groped on dad-style after the Stinkburger until he found something else: “Or the … or the … or the … or the Meanwhich!” Nailed it!

Ohhh. Dag, Mr. Obama. That’s … that’s not great. You can pull over and drop us off here. We’ll walk the rest of the way to the mall.

That joke just hung there, stagnant and awful as a fart in a car. And then we all laughed, because – just like that fart in a car – the awfulness, and the fact that we were all caught in that awfulness together, was itself sorta funny.

Dad Jokes, Domestic Policy

It’s been interesting to see the Stinkburger joke spin out across the political universe, especially among folks who weren’t in the room. In the local coverage – much of which, I can verify, was based on first-hand accounts – the Stinkburger didn’t seem to merit much mention. Nationally, it gained some traction in the Twitter feeds of elected Republicans, who were suitably outraged (but not there, in the room with us). Now, over the last few days, it’s been shoehorned into the headlines and ledes of articles in Business Insider,,, the Washington Post, etc. – as though it’s a legitimate expression of executive policy.

In case there’s any question, there is no “Executive Order: To Hell with GOP Stinkburgers!”

But treating any part of the PotUS’s April 2 remarks as legitimate political rhetoric meant to sway a dubious electorate is just as nutty. He didn’t come here to convince 1,400 people in the Upper Midwest that raising the minimum wage by $2.85 is a good idea. We’d all waited hours to get in, gone through the security rigamarole, and then stood around for another couple hours listening to excruciating banjo music. The folks who were on board came because they were already on board. The folks who weren’t came so that they could find something to be angry about.

He came to give us what we want: A sense of connection with the Leader of the Free World.

And, true to his agreeable nature and intent to be an aisle-bridging centrist, the PotUS gave everyone exactly what they needed – even the folks who just want to be pissed off at him, even the folks who didn’t show up to be in the room.

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our publication of local columnists like David Erik Nelson. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. So if you’re already supporting us on a regular basis, please educate your friends, neighbors and colleagues about The Chronicle and encourage them to support us, too!

]]> 1