Insider: House tribute celebrates longtime Levin-Dingell ties

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
From left, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak pose for a photo at the Charity Preview for the 2013 North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center.

The history of the Dingells and the Levins — two of Michigan's most well-known political families — date back nearly 80 years. 

In a tribute last week to former U.S. Rep. John Dingell Jr., who died this month at 92, Rep. Andy Levin spoke on the House floor about the beginning of the Democratic families' relationship. 

It starts in the late 1930s or early '40s, when Levin's father, Sander Levin, was about 10 years old and went out campaigning for Dingell's father. John Dingell Sr. served in the U.S. House from 1933 until his death in 1955.

"My father's first political memory, aside from listening to fireside chats on the living room radio from President Roosevelt, was campaigning for John Dingell Sr. in his knickers," said Andy Levin, who succeeded his father in Congress in January.

Dingell Sr. later recommended to President Harry Truman that he nominate an attorney named Theodore Levin to the federal bench in the Eastern District of Michigan.

Truman did so in 1946, and Theodore Levin was in office through his death in 1970, serving as chief judge from 1959-67. Dingell Jr., also a lawyer, clerked for Theodore Levin from 1952-53.

"It made a profound impact on the chairman," Andy Levin said, referring to Dingell Jr. "Mr. Dingell loved Uncle Ted." 

Theodore Levin's nephews are Sander Levin and his younger brother, Carl, who served in the House and Senate, respectively, for 36 years before retiring in 2015 and 2019. 

Dingell Jr., a Dearborn Democrat, spearheaded the effort to name the federal courthouse in Detroit after Theodore Levin in 1995. 

"He did not tell Congressman Sander Levin. He did not tell Sen. Carl Levin about this at all until it was a done deal," Andy Levin said. 

"He didn't want any sense, I guess, of a conflict of interest or whatever. He was doing this for his own sake. This was his mentor."

In Congress, Dingell Jr. rose to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sander Levin to chair the Ways and Means Committee.

They worked together in the House on saving the auto industry and cleaning up the Rouge River, Andy Levin said. 

"I'm not sure I'm willing to say goodbye to Mr. D. I'll just say godspeed to someone who, to me, will always be the Dean of the House and represent what this body is supposed to be," Andy Levin said. 

"Down to earth and sophisticated at the same time. Highly principled and expert at making the sausage. This is the people's House, and John Dingell was the people's representative." 

Temps swing big, but not that big

During her State of the State address, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer argued that Michigan experienced a 100-degree swing in temperatures earlier in the winter. 

But National Weather Service records show otherwise. 

The largest change in air temperature during a nine-day period from late January to early February was a 73-degree swing recorded in Alpena — shifting from minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit on Jan. 26 to 48 degrees on Feb. 4. 

Houghton Lake, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo each experienced 68-degree swings sometime during the Jan. 26-Feb. 4 period, while the Detroit/Pontiac area had a 67-degree shift — from -14 degrees on Jan. 31 to 53 degrees on Feb. 4.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

The difference is that the official National Weather Service data deal with air temperatures and not wind chill — which is considered the effective lowering of the temperature by wind and is rarely referred to when discussing warmer temperatures.

Whitmer conflated the two when she said during her speech that "Two weeks ago we had wind chills: 50 below zero. Last week it was over 50 above. That’s a 100 degree swing — and a reminder that climate change and extreme weather are already putting Michiganders at risk."

The National Weather Service will note wind chills on its blog, but it makes clear the context, Pontiac/Detroit area service meteorologist Joe Clark said Wednesday.

"Some people will say a 100-degree swing," Clark said. "It’s not the real temperature, but you could call it the apparent temperature."

How often do 70-degree swings in temperature occur in Michigan? 

"It’s not terribly common," Clark said, noting it happens "at least every several years" or "once every 10 years."

Staff Writer Richard Burr contributed.