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Kevorkian lawyer wins Mich. nod; anti-casino coalition goes to court

DETROIT (BP)–Geoffrey Fieger, the attorney for suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian, won the Democratic nomination for governor of Michigan Aug. 4 in a three-way race in which he was “first viewed as a brash, sharp-tongued novelty,” according to post-election coverage in the Detroit Free Press.
Fieger will face Gov. John Engler in the November election. Engler, seeking a third term, signed a ban on assisted suicide passed by the state legislature earlier this summer. The law, which goes into effect Sept. 1, calls for maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for providing the means for a person to commit suicide. Kevorkian, who claims to have assisted in more than 100 deaths, has beaten charges against him in four previous trials in which he has been defended by Fieger. If elected governor, Fieger said he will not pardon Kevorkian if the suicide doctor is convicted under the new law. Michigan voters additionally will face an assisted suicide initiative on the November ballot.
Meanwhile, in a battle to stop casino gambling from opening in Detroit, legal action was initiated Aug. 4 in the Michigan Supreme Court by a citizens coalition asking the court to order the Michigan secretary of state and the Board of State Canvassers to place an initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot to derail plans for Detroit to become the nation’s largest city with casino gambling.
The Michigan Coalition to Repeal Proposal E contended in a news release, “Las Vegas gambling casino promoters have been interfering with constitutional rights of Michigan citizens by pressuring the Secretary of State … and Board of State Canvassers to slow down the constitutionally mandated certification process until it is too late for the stop-Detroit gambling issue to be on the November 3 ballot.”
The coalition has gathered an estimated 268,000 signatures on its petition, above the required estimate of 247,127, to qualify for the November vote.
The coalition noted that a lawsuit filed July 15 by three Las Vegas casino gambling promoters trying to tie up routine certification of citizen petitions for non-factual reasons was thrown out by the Michigan Court of Appeals July 27.
In a heated vote in Detroit Aug. 4, citizens endorsed a $1.8 billion three-casino plan by Mayor Dennis Archer for the city’s riverfront, over a proposal for black millionaire businessman Don Barden, an Archer critic, to be awarded one of the openings.
Archer had selected MGM Grand, Atwater/Circus Circus and the Greektown/Chippewa Indians to operate the casinos, which could open temporary as early as next spring, with the permanent, Vegas-style gambling operations opening by 2001. Just across the border in Canada, a new $375-million Casino Windsor also has opened.
Barden and a coalition of activists, depicting themselves as waging a struggle for black empowerment, had enlisted pop stars Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder and New York preacher and civil rights activist Al Sharpton to advance their cause.
. Proposal 2 on the ballot, which allowed voters to endorse Archer’s choices, prevailed by receiving more “yes” votes than Proposal 1, which would have awarded Baren a casino. Proposal 2’s unofficial total, as of the morning of Aug. 5: 87,970, yes; 70,369, no. Proposal 1: 69,575 yes; 89,372, no.
Archer told the Free Press “the verbal abuse (during the contest) that has been placed on me and my family almost surpasses the negatives when I ran for mayor in 1993. It’s much more vicious, much more personal and so totally unnecessary.” The battle began when Barden’s bid, the only one with nearly 100-percent black ownership, was among those rejected by Archer last year as not measuring up to the three winning proposals.
Thousands of signatures were gathered to put the issue on the ballot, prompting Archer and the three casino groups to spend more than half a million dollars on advertising, the Free Press reported.
Fieger, a wealthy attorney largely bankrolling his first bid for public office, ran a populist-style campaign of fighting for poor people and the common man — a style described by the Detroit Free Press as “marked by scorching insults and accusations” in “one of the most bitter and colorful statewide campaigns in recent memory.”
Democratic leaders, Fieger had charged, are aging power brokers presiding over “a party of wimps and oatmeal.”
Fieger’s win joins “the presidential primary victories of Jesse Jackson in 1988 and George Wallace in 1972 in a pantheon of election shockers,” the newspaper said. Fieger has said as governor he would not accept the position’s $112,000 annual salary.
“I don’t think I’m as outrageous as I’m represented in the media,” he told the newspaper. “You don’t write that I’m as colorful, interesting and intelligent as I am.”
With all but 90 precincts reporting at noon Aug. 5, Fieger, of West Bloomfield, received 293,139 votes in the Democratic primary, a 41 percent total over Larry Owen, an East Lansing businessman with heavy union backing, with 37 percent of the vote, and former state commerce director Doug Ross, 22 percent.
The November race between Engler and Fieger is one “that many experts believe would be Engler’s to lose, but nonetheless spirited if not offbeat,” with a potential for a Republican landslide, as characterized by the Detroit Free Press.
Engler coasted to an easy victory in the Republican primary, winning nearly 90 percent of the vote against Gary Artinian of Bloomfield Hills.
The Free Press quoted Engler spokesman John Truscott as saying of Fieger: “He’s nuts. I don’t think that profanity, the abuse of language … I don’t think the people will go for it. When he’s challenged, he explodes. I think we’ll stay focused on our agenda; there’s no reason to divert and degenerate down to his level.”
The Free Press wrote that Republican leaders believe that Engler’s popularity kept more electable Democrats out of the governor’s race.