Rep. Sander Levin (D)
Michigan 12th District
The flat expanse of land just north of Eight Mile Road, Detroit’s northern city limit, was mostly vacant in the years just after World War II. A string of suburbs in Oakland County ran along Woodward Avenue from the Detroit city limits to the Shrine of the Little Flower Church in Royal Oak, where Father Charles Coughlin in the 1930s made his radio broadcasts opposing Franklin D. Roosevelt and denouncing bankers and Jews. In the 1950s and 1960s, Woodward was one of America’s greatest cruising highways, where teenagers drove big Detroit cars up and down the eight lanes and where the lights were timed at 42 miles per hour. (Since 1994, the Woodward Dream Cruise of old cars has commemorated that era with a mega-celebration drawing more than 1 million.) To the east in Macomb County was some industrial development along Van Dyke Road, but this was mostly empty land, too. Then Polish-Americans began marching out Van Dyke from Hamtramck to Warren. Italian-Americans headed out Gratiot from Detroit’s east side to Roseville and Clinton Township. Belgian-Americans from the Mack corridor moved out farther to St. Clair Shores. Today, these areas are well-settled suburbs, long since built up, a few neighborhoods edging toward seediness, many others continually renovated. Almost half of metro Detroit’s population is now north of Eight Mile, in communities drawing on old traditions but crackling with economic creativity.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 12th Congressional District of Michigan is in this suburban territory, with two-thirds of its population in Macomb County. On the Oakland County side are the southern part of Royal Oak and other Woodward Avenue suburbs, which have been economically revitalized, attracting singles and gays as well as families. Oak Park, heavily Jewish in the 1950s, now also has sizable numbers of Arabs and blacks. Hazel Park and Madison Heights are mostly peopled with descendants of the Appalachian migrants of a few decades ago. Southfield, Michigan’s largest office-space center (far ahead of Detroit), has a black middle-class majority. Ferndale, one of the original bedroom communities for autoworkers, has been revived with help from government bonds and is viewed as a model for rescuing aging suburbs. On the Macomb side are the county’s more Democratic neighborhoods: Warren and the southern part of Sterling Heights, site of the General Motors Technical Center, a big Chrysler plant and the now-privatized M-1 tank plant. Farther east are blue-collar communities of Macomb: Eastpointe (formerly known as East Detroit, it voted to change its name to make it sound less like Detroit and more like tony Grosse Pointe), Roseville, St. Clair Shores, Clinton Township and Mount Clemens. Although still a small share at 7 percent, the black population has been growing rapidly in Macomb. This district is solidly Democratic.
Rep. Sander Levin (D)
Elected: 1982, 14th term.
Born: Sept. 6, 1931, Detroit .
Home: Royal Oak.
Education: U. of Chicago, B.A. 1952, Columbia U., M.A. 1954, Harvard U., LL.B. 1957.
Family: Widowed; 4 children.
Elected office: Oakland Bd. of Supervisors, 1961–64; MI Senate, 1964–70.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1957–64, 1970–76; Fellow, Harvard JFK Schl. of Govt., 1975; A.A., Agency for Intl. Devel., 1977–81.
The congressman from the 12th District is Sander Levin, a Democrat first elected in 1982, an influential lawmaker and a member of one of Michigan’s most respected political families. He is the older brother by three years of Democratic Sen. Carl Levin. He grew up in Detroit and got degrees from the University of Chicago, Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He settled in the Woodward Avenue suburb of Berkley after school and was elected state senator in 1964. In 1970 and 1974, he ran for governor and lost narrowly each time to Republican William Milliken. During the Carter administration, he was a top appointee at the Agency for International Development. In 1982, a House seat suddenly opened up in redistricting. Levin won a spirited primary and held the seat without difficulty. The 1992 redistricting moved him east, into Macomb County, and placed him in the same district with Democrat Dennis Hertel, who decided to retire. Levin easily won the nomination and the election.
|Sander Levin (D)||225,094||(72%)||($660,710)|
|Bert Copple (R)||74,565||(24%)|
|Sander Levin (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (70%), 2004 (69%), 2002 (68%), 2000 (64%), 1998 (56%), 1996 (57%), 1994 (52%), 1992 (53%), 1990 (70%), 1988 (70%), 1986 (76%), 1984 (100%), 1982 (67%)
Levin is a hard worker and a details man, willing to spend endless hours with others working out solutions. Based on his work with local communities to create coalitions to combat drug and alcohol abuse, he co-authored the federal Drug Free Communities Act. On the Ways and Means Committee, he has played an important role on some significant issues. On welfare, Levin opposed the 1995 bills passed by Republicans but helped shape the bill enacted in August 1996 that overhauled the welfare program by introducing more work requirements. After the death of Robert Matsui of California in January 2005, Levin became the top Democrat on the Social Security Subcommittee. In that year’s major debate, his outspoken opposition to personal retirement accounts in Social Security put Republicans on the defensive and helped to stymie serious action on the proposal. He said that Bush’s initial warnings about the threats to the Social Security system were exaggerated, and he downplayed the need for Democrats to offer their own alternative. In opposing the use of force in Iraq, he consulted extensively with his brother, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In their respective chambers, each Levin offered alternatives reflecting what the brothers view as a more internationalist approach, but each was defeated.
In the majority, Levin became chairman of the Trade Subcommittee, where he was a frequent obstacle to the Bush administration in the 110th Congress (2007-08). For years, Levin has been at the center of trade debates, seeking ways, as he often says, to shape globalization. He favored the free-trade agreement with Canada, which was designed in large part by auto manufacturers and the United Auto Workers. But he was wary of Japanese trade barriers and pushed unsuccessfully for stringent measures on Japanese minivans. He was a strong opponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, but supported normal trade relations with China, playing an instrumental role in crafting details with the Clinton administration. He opposed giving the president expanded powers to negotiate trade agreements in both the Clinton and Bush years. He supported agreements that the Bush administration reached with Australia and Morocco, but he raised concerns over the impact on auto imports from a potential agreement with Thailand. In discussions on a bilateral trade deal with South Korea, a high priority of the Bush administration, he demanded “measurable benchmarks” for opening that market.
Reflecting Detroit’s strong union heritage, Levin typically wants trade agreements to contain provisions on workers’ rights, fair ways of settling workers’ disagreements and environmental-protection provisions. In 2008, he cited labor-rights violations and other violence as he led opposition to House action on a free-trade deal with Colombia. Earlier, he got the Bush administration to make changes in labor and environmental protections in an agreement with Peru. And he pushed for steps to pressure China to reduce the value of its currency as a way to improve the U.S. trade imbalance with China. Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, despite her professed support for expanded international trade, typically deferred to Levin on specific agreements. When Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel of New York was hurt by a spate of negative news stories about his ethics in 2008, some Democrats thought that if Rangel were forced to step down, Levin would be a more acceptable alternative to the more senior Pete Stark, D-Calif. After the 1992 redistricting, which removed much of metro Detroit’s Jewish community from Levin’s district and added unfamiliar territory in Macomb County, Levin had serious competition from Republican John Pappageorge, a retired Army colonel and M-1 tank executive. Levin outspent Pappageorge $1.18 million to $190,000 and won by just 53%-46%. In 1994, when Clinton was affirmatively unpopular, Levin again greatly outspent Pappageorge in a rematch and won 52%-47%. But in the more pro-incumbent environment of 1996, Levin improved his victory to 57%-41%. Since then, the local tide has shifted his way, and Levin has won easily. Just before the last election, Levin suffered a personal tragedy. His wife of over 50 years, Victoria Levin, an advocate for children’s mental health issues, died of breast cancer. She had worked on many of her husband’s campaigns and was his close political adviser.