Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Where to go, right now: A ‘citycation’ in Toronto

The following was published Monday on Medium.

Detroit was pretty undesirable when I was coming of age in the early 2000s. It was basically a no-go area, at least outside of a professional sporting event.

As a result, I never had the big city experiences—shopping in flagship downtown department stores, riding a subway, gazing up at massive skyscrapers—that many urban dwellers take for granted until I started going to Toronto for hockey during my high school and college years.

Since then I’ve watched as Toronto has exploded.

And not just downtown, but in every direction. This becomes evident during the last 45 or so minutes of the four-hour drive from Detroit, when Highway 401 becomes abutted by the bland architecture of corporate office parks.

Toronto is closer to Chicago in population, but its dominance over Canadian culture, media, arts and business puts it on par with New York City.

This makes Canada’s largest city the perfect destination for what I call a ‘citycation’ — a long weekend in the big city.

What to do

I spent a recent weekend checking out some of Toronto’s world-class museums, including the nearly two-year-old Aga Kahn Museum.

Getting there was a little bit of a challenge from downtown — plan on using Uber — but the journey was worth the hassle. I found the Aga Kahn’s collection of Islamic art a nice change from what I’m accustomed to seeing. On special exhibit at the moment is “A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul Then and Now,” a collection of rare 19th century photographs of Istanbul under the Ottomans. It’s too bad Diwan, the museum café, isn’t open for dinner as the lunch menu was quite good (I recommend the chermoula-marinated prawns).

Back downtown, the Royal Ontario Museum has a fascinating collection of artifacts from when Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, was the seat of the Byzantine Empire. Best of all, it’s open late—well, 8:30 p.m. — on Friday.

Nearby is the Art Gallery of Ontario, which offers a better experience every Friday evening than the Royal Ontario Museum. If you’re into photography you might enjoy “Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s-1980s,” which runs through May. Those with an interest in architecture will also be drawn to the museum’s façade, which was redesigned by Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry. Chances are you’ll either love it or hate it.

Even if you aren’t into hockey, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a must-visit, if only to better understand the sport that doubles as Canada’s national religion.

You might also consider Fort York, a late 18th century British military fortification that saw action during the War of 1812. Just don’t get into a discussion on who actually won the war. (Canadians will insist they won.)

Where to stay

I recommend the upscale InterContinental Toronto Centre, which is near the iconic CN Tower on Front Street.

It’s perfectly located for a citycation. And with warmer weather now upon us, you can easily walk from the hotel to most of the major sights within 15 or 20 minutes.

Many convention center hotels can feel overwhelming, but not the InterContinental. Not only did I find the service, especially in the restaurant, to be quite good, but the spa and poolside patio made it easy to relax despite being in the midst of an urban jungle.

How to get there

Getting to Toronto is easy even if you don’t live within driving distance.

All major airlines fly into Pearson International Airport, Toronto’s major airport. There are also flights from Washington, Boston and Chicago into Toronto City Centre Airport on Porter, a Canadian-flagged regional airline.

From Pearson, the Union Pearson Express train is the fastest way into downtown Toronto. It terminates at Union Station, which is a five-minute walk from the InterContinental.

— Dennis Lennox

Monday, April 4, 2016

In case you missed it

Over the weekend, I took part in a blogger/pundits-only panel on "Off the Record," the statewide TV program with Tim Skubick.

You can watch my appearance below.

I was also did two radio interviews last week with Michael Patrick Shiels on "Michigan's Big Show" and Dave Akerly of "Morning Wake up" (listen here).

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bill Schuette for president?

The following was published in today's edition of The Detroit News.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette for president? It’s not that crazy of an idea.

The attorney general is now the odds-on favorite for the Republican nomination to succeed Governor Rick Snyder.

While Snyder prefers Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley — the governor and Schuette have never been close — the Flint water crisis will be a huge dynamic in 2018.

Then there’s the fact that lieutenant governors aren’t terribly successful in winning higher office. The exception, of course, was Bill Milliken, who holds the record of longest-serving governor. But Milliken only became governor because George Romney resigned to serve in President Richard Nixon’s administration.

At one point, many thought Snyder might resign after the presidential election, as a twice-elected purple state governor would surely be on the shortlist for a cabinet post of a Republican president. The ghost of Flint, however, makes that scenario unlikely.

Imagine: November 2018, two years into the Hillary Clinton presidency.

Not only did Schuette win the GOP nomination, but he overcame the winds of electoral change — in a two-party system the opposition always has an advantage after two terms and eight years — and is preparing to move into the governor’s mansion.

Nationally, Republicans have been devastated after losing the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections.

Clinton has spent her first two years governing to the left of President Barack Obama. Backing her up has been the solid left-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.

With the 2020 presidential campaign in focus, Republicans are resolved not to repeat the debacle of 2016, when more than a dozen credible candidates destroyed the party’s chances.

Schuette, who has balanced the competing interests of the establishment with the party’s vocal right-wing base over his 36 years in this or that office, seizes the opportunity and makes a run for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

While predecessor Snyder hated the campaign side of governing, Schuette lives, sleeps, and breathes politics. He relishes life on the trail, including the rubber-chicken dinners of local Republican gatherings in traditional early voting states.

His mastery of all things politics, including as attorney general when he cultivated relationships with other GOP state attorneys general (many of whom are also now governors) in the endless lawsuits against first the Obama administration and now the Clinton administration, has solidified his street cred with the militant right that propelled the anti-establishment outsiders of 2016.

Of course, four years is an eternity in politics.

Clinton’s election is hardly a forgone conclusion. A Republican could still win, thereby blocking Schuette’s path to the White House regardless of whether he becomes governor.

Still, Schuette, being the political animal that he is, knows that the governorship of Michigan would put him one step closer to fulfilling the dream he’s had since his high school days in Midland.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

2 Ways Absentee Voting Will Impact Tonight’s New Hampshire Primary Results

The following was published today in the Independent Journal Review.

Heading into today’s New Hampshire primary, the storylines have largely centered on just how large Bernie Sanders’ margin of victory will be tonight over Hillary Clinton and whether one of the Republican governors — Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or John Kasich — can take second place behind Donald Trump.

Pretty much everyone has ignored the impact absentee voting could have by the time numbers are known, sometime after polls close in most of New Hampshire at 7 p.m. Eastern. (Polls in some Granite State communities remain open until 8 p.m.)

Not only are state officials predicting record turnout, but the number of requests for absentee ballots in some locales was the highest since 2008.

With all that in mind, here are two ways absentee voting impacts the first-in-the-nation Republican primary:

1. The most-organized candidates benefit from strong absentee voting operations.

Bush, Christie, Cruz, Kasich and Rubio are running the most organized campaigns in New Hampshire. Their campaign operatives and consultants are old pros who know absentee voting can make the difference in a close race. Good campaigns know not only who generally votes absentee, but will target them with mailers and telephone calls until the ballot is returned to local election officials.

And if each of the so-called establishment candidates have a strong absentee voting operation then there might be little practical difference between who finishes second, third, fourth and perhaps even fifth. (Recall that Joe Lieberman claimed his fifth-place finish in the state’s 2004 Democratic primary was actually a three-way tie for third.)

2. The absentee vote reflects the state of the GOP race before Iowa.

New Hampshire voters have been able to request absentee ballots since early January, which means a significant number of ballots were cast based on the state of the Republican race at a much earlier point in the campaign.

This means Cruz and Kasich should do well, as both candidates consistently polled the best, outside of Trump, before the Iowa caucuses. By contrast, Rubio’s post-Iowa momentum going into Saturday’s debate is less likely to be reflected in the ballots of absentee voters.

— Dennis Lennox

Monday, February 8, 2016

‘Outsiders’ woo voters with authenticity

The following was published in Thursday's edition of The Detroit News.

Those who attribute the success of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump to the rise of the political outsider are wrong.

Rather, this year’s presidential election is showing the electorate wants authenticity.

Cruz and Trump are as authentic as they come in their own separate ways. The same is also true for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, the folksy U.S. senator from Vermont, whose Iowa surprise is a direct repudiation of the biggest hypocrites in the American body politic.

Trump may be absurdly rich and overly eccentric, but his supporters see someone who is comfortable being himself. Instead of faking it in steerage-class on a commercial airline, he flies in his luxurious personal 757 aircraft. He wears the same expensive, presumably bespoke suits at hustings in Iowa and New Hampshire — he doesn’t don the Average Joe costume worn by the politicians — as he wears when making multi-million dollar deals on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

By contrast, Cruz’s authenticity is rooted in his steadfast conservatism. Like him or not, the junior U.S. senator from Texas has done everything that he said he would do when he was elected to the upper house of Congress in 2012. That’s what makes him attractive to base GOP voters, who want more than a campaign conservative.

Don’t forget it was authenticity that propelled George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, when Americans said they would rather have a beer with the teetotaler Republican president than Democratic challenger John Kerry. Kerry, the epitome of the Boston Brahmins, just couldn’t relate to everyday Americans in flyover country.

Republicans tried wrapping themselves in all things Americana in 2012, when Mitt Romney ran on a slogan of “believe in America.”

Yet the Michigan native and former Massachusetts governor was doomed by an awkwardness that only played into the Democratic narrative that he was a rich, out of touch corporate executive.

While the so-called establishment candidates in the Republican nomination campaign run largely on the same ideas and playbook, Cruz and Trump each claim to have a map that can lead the GOP out of the political wilderness.

Trump has considerable appeal with blue-collar voters. In fact, polls have shown Trump’s triangulation could result in Democrats losing upwards of 20 percent of their vote to him.

Cruz’s strategy is similar. Like Trump, he aims to reassemble the broad coalition that produced two landslide victories for Ronald Reagan. Among those in this coalition are the ticket-splitters of Macomb County, Downriver and the I-75 corridor. Beyond them Cruz also believes there is a considerable number of conservatives who haven’t been motivated to turn out for recent Republican nominees.

If either strategy holds then Republicans have a darn good chance of winning the national governing majority that has eluded the party in four of the last six presidential elections.

— Dennis Lennox