Howard Dean stops in Ypsilanti

Sunday, August 17, 2003

About half of the crowd gathered at an Ypsilanti backyard fund-raiser for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean said they haven’t been involved in a political campaign in at least 10 years.

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Many said they were drawn to the former Vermont governor by the grassroots nature of his campaign, which has taken Internet fund-raising and networking to a new level.

Some traveled from as far away as West Michigan or Indiana after learning via e-mail or from Dean’s Web site about his Ypsilanti appearances at the home of Matt and Rene Greff, owners of Arbor Brewing Co., and at Recreation Park Saturday morning and afternoon. About 200 people attended each event.

Though Dean’s platform may first have come to them via the information superhighway, supporters at Saturday’s events said what will keep them clicking their mouses and knocking on doors to put Dean in the White House is his willingness to take stands on controversial issues such as war, labor, trade, health care, gay rights and taxes.

Dean opposed the war in Iraq, credits labor unions for creating the middle class and says free trade should be extended only to nations who abide by U.S. environmental and labor standards. He also supports a national health-care system and state sanctioning of gay and lesbian marriage. Without the slightest hesitation, Dean said he would repeal President Bush’s tax cuts, which he believes gave an unfair break to the rich.

Bush has said the tax cuts will stimulate the economy and create jobs.

Dean, a medical doctor and former investment banker who is married to a physician, said he would invest money from repealing the tax cuts in balancing the federal budget, improving health care, schools and roads, and promoting alternative energy and developing broadband communication for rural America.

As he blasted Bush’s economic decisions, Dean said balancing the budget “is a social justice issue” and that the middle class is paying for the tax cuts with larger class sizes at schools and higher college tuition.

“Jobs are the No. 1 issue,” Dean said. “This is the credit-card president. He models his fiscal responsibility after Argentina.”

As Dean spoke, about a dozen tax cut supporters picketed with red, white and blue signs on the sidewalk across the street from the Greff home on Grant Street.

Randy Thompson, 31, spokesman for the group, said he earns $42,000 a year and plans to use his tax cut money to buy school clothes for his four children.

“I hardly believe that I’m the rich,” Thompson said. “I really think we need to ask Mr. Dean what he means by rich.”

Across the street, Nicholas Jankowski, 31, and his partner, Wesley Loesch, 38, said they drove up from Tecumseh to support Dean, in part, for his willingness to support legal unions of gays and lesbians even when the issue didn’t have much support in Vermont.

“The fact that he was willing to do something that was right but not necessarily popular shows that he is going to go for what’s important, and I think that speaks for his integrity,” Jankowski said.

Dean’s use of the Internet helped the campaign raise $7.5 million in the April-June period, more than the other Democratic front-runners, U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

As Dean hopped in the black SUV that would carry him to the airport for his next event in Buffalo, N.Y., some women who had attended the rally at Recreation Park expressed admiration for his charisma.

“He’s got as much Elvis as Clinton,” said Maia Cowan, 48, of Royal Oak.

Not everyone who attended Saturday’s events decided to hop on the campaign trail with Dean. John Austin of Ann Arbor, a member of the State Board of Education, said he appreciates Dean’s candor and many of his views, but he doesn’t care for the way in which he blasts Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act” by calling it an unfunded mandate.

“It is going to make us accountable for helping every child learn,” Austin said. “It needs some money behind it, but we should embrace the spirit of it.”

Patty Maher may be reached by at or (734) 482-4868. The Associated Press Contributed to this report.

© 2003 Ann Arbor News.