Purported Northern Michigan boat launch request fuels controversy for Whitmer

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

The owner of a Northern Michigan dock company says Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's husband wanted his boat placed in the water before the Memorial Day weekend as Whitmer urged residents not to rush to the region.

No longer visible to the public, Facebook posts from NorthShore Dock LLC and its owner, Tad Dowker, focused on what Dowker said was a request last week by Whitmer's husband, Marc Mallory. The posts have drawn the attention of Republican state lawmakers, who said the Democratic governor's family may not be following her guidance for the rest of the state.

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Whitmer's spokeswoman, Tiffany Brown, didn't confirm or deny Monday the assertions by the marina company or its owner. Brown said the administration wouldn't address "every rumor that is spread online."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks about the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan during a press conference in Lansing on Thursday, March 26, 2020.

Dowker's Facebook post emerged Thursday — three days after Whitmer announced she would lift some business and travel restrictions on Northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, where there are many vacation destinations and fewer COVID-19 cases than other areas of the state.

Whitmer first issued a statewide stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the virus on March 23.

"This morning, I was out working when the office called me, there was a gentleman on hold who wanted his boat in the water before the weekend," Dowker posted. "Being Memorial weekend and the fact that we started working three weeks late means there is no chance this is going to happen."

"Well our office personnel had explained this to the man and he replied, 'I am the husband to the governor, will this make a difference?'"

Whitmer and Mallory, who reside in Lansing, own a property in the Elk Rapids area with a taxable value of about $175,000, according to county records. Zillow estimates the property could currently sell for more than $437,000. 

NorthShore Dock LLC posted a second statement about the situation on its page Saturday after Dowker apparently removed his own. The company said Dowker's post had gone "viral" and employees didn't have time to deal with resulting media requests.

"After a long day of keeping crews running, adhering to the additional safety regulations that need to be in place to operate our small business and fielding calls from customers frustrated with our lagging installation schedule I was told the governor's husband called asking for install availability," the company posted. "Up until this point we, as a company, had no idea we installed their dock or boat."

The statement said Mallory was respectful and understanding when the company couldn't schedule the installation early.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her husband, Marc Mallory, greet partygoers at the Chevy section of the NAIAS Charity Preview.

In a brief Monday phone conversation, Dowker stood by the content of the post but maintained his company didn't have time to deal with the media requests resulting from it. 

In a statement, Whitmer spokeswoman Brown didn't specifically confirm or deny the company's assertion.

"Our practice is not to discuss the governor’s or her family’s personal calendar/schedules. And we’re not going to make it a practice of addressing every rumor that is spread online," Brown said.

"There’s been a lot of wild misinformation spreading online attacking the governor and her family, and the threats of violence against her personally are downright dangerous," she added.

On May 18, Whitmer announced plans to lift restrictions on northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

"If you don't live in these regions ... think long and hard before you take a trip into them," Whitmer said at the May 18 press conference.

"A small spike could put the hospital system in dire straits pretty quickly," she added later. "That's precisely why we're asking everyone to continue doing their part. Don't descend on Traverse City from all regions of the state."

The property owned by Whitmer and her husband is about 25 minutes from Traverse City.

State Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, wrote his own Facebook post on Friday, criticizing Mallory's apparent request for the boat installation. The post was shared 500 times, Barrett said.

Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte

But the lawmaker said he eventually deleted it after the governor's office reached out to the staff of Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, asking for the post to be removed and contending the comments were false.

Barrett, who looked into the situation further, said he now believes the governor's office had made him an "unwilling" accessory in an attempted cover-up of the situation. The senator also mentioned that Whitmer had told other Michigan residents not to "descend" on Traverse City.

“Yet, what did her family try and do?" Barrett said.

"In the Army, we have a tradition that the leaders get in line for chow last behind everyone else in the unit," he continued. "Here is the leader of our state. … Her family is trying to cut people in line."

Brown said the governor's office asked Shirkey's office "to stop the personal attacks against the governor's family" after another senator mentioned Whitmer's daughters during a speech on the Senate floor.

However, House Majority Floor Leader Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, who represents Antrim County in the House, said he had "every reason" to believe NorthShore Dock LLC's Facebook post.

Whitmer and her family had lost the perspective of being a humble public servant, Cole countered.