Fieger ‘darn serious’ about run for governor in 2018

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Outspoken Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger said Friday he is considering a run for governor in 2018 — and he won’t rule out a run for president in 2020 if he wins.

“Of course I’m thinking about it. It’s been 20 years,” said Fieger, who won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1998 but lost badly in a combative general election race to incumbent Republican Gov. John Engler.

Fieger’s name resurfaced this week as a potential candidate for governor after U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, announced he would not run, leaving former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer as the highest-profile Democrat in the race.

Fieger confirmed his interest in a free-wheeling interview for “Off The Record” on WKAR-TV, saying he is “darn serious” about a potential run.

“I’ve watched this state deteriorate to the point at which we can’t travel our roads, our schools are a disaster, we’re not paying workers what they should be paid, we’re engaging in a war on teachers and, frankly, I honestly believe we have had a dearth, meaning an absence, of leadership in the state of Michigan for so many years.”

Fieger said he is in no rush to decide on a gubernatorial run, noting he did not get serious about the 1998 election until April of that year. But interest in the 2018 nomination is high, as Democrats believe conditions are ripe for a general election win.

Whitmer is the early front-runner for the nomination but is facing an aggressive challenge from former Detroit health department director Abdul El-Sayed. Prominent Ann Arbor attorney and University of Michigan Regent Mark Bernstein confirmed this week he’s “very seriously” considering a run for governor.

The Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights endorsed Whitmer this week, giving her the biggest union endorsement so far this cycle.

But Fieger, whose brash style has drawn comparisons to Republican President Donald Trump, said he is not intimidated by her candidacy.

“I don’t’ even know who she is,” Fieger said of Whitmer, suggesting she does not have great name identification outside of the Lansing area. “If she was so dynamic, I’d at least know who she is.”

Fieger described himself as a self-made man but suggested Bernstein has benefited from family connections. His father, Sam Bernstein, founded the 1-800-Call-Sam law firm. His brother Richard Bernstein serves on the Michigan Supreme Court.

“I created what I have myself,” said Fieger, who runs a high-profile law firm and famously defended assisted suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian. “Mr. Bernstein has his dad’s money. Mr. Trump was supported by his dad, who was a racist.”

Fieger has teased a possible presidential run with television ads touting a “2020 Vision for America,” and he said Friday that he “wouldn’t promise” not to run for president if he won the governor’s race in 2018.

He repeatedly lambasted Trump, calling him “mentally ill,” a narcissist and a possible “sociopath,” arguing his presidency is bad for America.

But Fieger argued that, like Trump, he could appeal to voters who have felt left behind. Trump topped Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton last year in Michigan, becoming the first Republican to win the state since 1988.

“I’d pull everyone in,” Fieger said of his potential gubernatorial run. “As Donald Trump showed in this state, the identity of Democrats and Republicans isn’t as important as what they feel you’re speaking to. This state, for all intents and purposes, should be a Democratic state, but nobody has ever spoken to them the way we need to be spoken to again.”

Democratic insiders are well-aware that “outsider candidates” fared well in 2016, and Fieger fits the description, “but I don’t think he’s a viable candidate for governor in the Democratic Party,” said consultant Howard Edelson.

“His last gubernatorial run was a fiasco,” Edelson said. “He’s really the Democratic Donald Trump, and I think we see how that’s working out. I think more people are likely to hire him as a trial lawyer than to vote for him for elected office.”

Susan Demas, owner and editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, said she is skeptical that Fieger will actually run for governor again, noting his lucrative law practice and his experience “undergoing the grind of a campaign” 20 years ago.

Fieger has money that could help finance his own campaign, but he also has a “very poor track record” in elections, Demas said.

“I’m sure that he has taken a look at the success of another very entertaining celebrity within the White House and said, why not me? But I do think there are real practical concerns for him in making the leap to actually being a candidate again. I’ll believe it when I see the paperwork.”

Fieger lost to Engler by roughly 25 percentage points in 1998. He acknowledged the campaign was “arduous” and that he does not like to lose, but he argued that with backlash against Trump and lingering anger over the Flint water crisis, the conditions should be right “for any Democrat to win” in 2018.

Term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder “was not and is not up to being governor,” Fieger opined. And Attorney General Bill Schuette, a potential candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2018, is a “nice man” but a “peripatetic politician” who has been “sucking off the public trough” for too long, he said.

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