March 2020 Biden rally looked like ‘superspreader,’ Whitmer says in new book

March 2020 Biden rally looked like ‘superspreader,’ Whitmer says in new book

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revealed in her new book that her administration realized as early as February 27, 2020 — 12 days before the state publicly reported its first COVID-19 infections — that the disease would be “unlike anything this country has seen in 100 years.”

Whitmer wrote that Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, who was Michigan’s chief medical officer, informed her about COVID-19 on Feb. 27, 2020. Khaldun said she believed it was “already here in Michigan,” could spread quickly and was “far more deadly than the flu,” according to the book “True Gretch,” which debuted Tuesday.

But the Democratic governor said she decided not to ask people to stay home at that time and went ahead with a campaign rally with Democratic candidate Joe Biden on March 9, 2020, the eve of Michigan’s presidential primary, because the state had found no COVID-19 cases.

The Biden rally drew Whitmer, then-U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who would later become Biden’s vice president, and hundreds of others to Renaissance High School in Detroit, where hand sanitizer was handed out to attendees as they entered the gym.

“The good news was that the rally was a huge success and motivated voters to vote for Biden,” Whitmer wrote in her book. “But looking back at the photos of it now, I can’t help but shudder.

“It looks like a super spreader is on the way.”

On March 10, 2020, the day after the rally, Biden won the Michigan primary over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Michigan reported its first COVID-19 infections. In the weeks that followed, the state’s hospitals struggled to cope with a surge in infections, and Whitmer imposed restrictions on in-person schooling, travel, and businesses to combat the virus.

It’s unclear what role, if any, the presidential primaries played in the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan. But state officials later released data showing that hundreds of people were actually infected at the time of the March 10, 2020, election. The hundreds of cases simply hadn’t been detected by testing before March 10, 2020.

Asked about the primaries, Whitmer told The Detroit News in a May 2020 interview that there wouldn’t be much point in “revisiting all of the events that occurred in the month or two leading up to our first cases.”

“True Gretch,” published by Simon & Schuster, offers a look at the many defining moments of Whitmer’s first five and a half years as Michigan’s governor. It combines new details of policy decisions with family stories and advice that Whitmer described as sharing what she’s learned.

“That’s why I decided to write this book: to shed a little light on a damned dark time,” Whitmer wrote in the book’s prologue. “If I can tell a story that makes you think, or lightens your load, or even makes you laugh, that’s what matters.”

The book’s publication on Tuesday follows mounting speculation that Whitmer, who is 52 and is seen as a rising star in Democratic politics, could one day run for president.

Her nationwide tour kicks off next Sunday with an event in Seattle, followed by two more West Coast stops next week in Santa Monica, Calif., and San Francisco, according to a schedule posted online. Her first stop in Michigan is scheduled for a 7 p.m. performance on July 22 at the Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea with actor Jeff Daniels. On July 23, Whitmer’s tour takes her to her alma mater, Michigan State University, for an event in East Lansing with former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard.

According to Adrian Hemond, a political consultant at the Lansing-based agency Grassroots Midwest, the book could help Whitmer pursue a number of different career options, including running for office, leading a nonprofit or pursuing a career as a media personality.

“It helps tell and sell her leadership story,” Hemond said.

While Whitmer doesn’t specifically discuss her future in the book, she writes that “there’s no place I’d rather be than here and now.” And she notes that she loves former President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech.

“Though these words were written over a hundred years ago, they are as true today — except for two things,” Whitmer writes. “The ‘man’ can be a woman. And she can just wear fuchsia.”

About road repair

“True Gretch” is a bit of a memoir, a bit of an advice column, and a bit of a personal philosophical text.

Whitmer, an attorney and former state legislator from East Lansing, was elected governor of Michigan in 2018, when she defeated then-Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican from Midland.

She ran in 2018 with the slogan “Fix the damn roads.” Whitmer describes in her book that the slogan was first used by a woman, Bridget Bonds, who met Whitmer at a campaign rally in a Detroit hospital.

“I just want you to fix those damn roads,” Bonds said, according to Whitmer’s book.

Whitmer said she started using the words during the campaign and that her campaign manager, Eric Goldman, eventually suggested she “continue to do so,” according to the book.

“Fixing the roads isn’t just about giving people a smoother ride,” Whitmer wrote. “It’s about making sure people can provide for their families and get to work and go to the grocery store and go to the ballpark and go to the barbecue.”

Whitmer included the story in a chapter of the book titled “Learn to Listen.”

Each of the 10 chapters revolves around one piece of guidance.

‘Dealing with bullies’

In another chapter, titled “Don’t Let Bullies Get You Down,” Whitmer highlights a clash with former Republican President Donald Trump in the early days of the pandemic.

During a press conference on March 26, 2020, Trump said he told then-Vice President Mike Pence, “Don’t call the woman in Michigan” after Whitmer criticized his administration’s efforts to provide equipment to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“I say, Mike… don’t call the woman in Michigan,” Trump said. “I say, if they don’t treat you right, don’t call.”

Whitmer and her allies embraced the description, inspiring T-shirts and other merchandise with the phrase “that woman from Michigan.”

“That’s the secret to dealing with bullies: You take their weapon and make it your shield,” Whitmer wrote in the book. “Every time Trump gave me a nickname, I made it my own.”

In a chapter titled “Run Toward the Fire,” Whitmer defended the unilateral emergency measures she imposed on public gatherings and businesses to combat COVID-19. She was trying to save lives, the governor wrote.

“It was my duty to protect all the citizens of my state, and with the number of cases rising, I didn’t have time to worry about whether it would upset or anger others,” Whitmer wrote. “When you see a fire, you have three choices: You can run away, stand by and watch, or run toward it. I ran toward it.”

But asked about the segment, Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, said it was the “arbitrary” nature of some of the Democratic governor’s decisions during the pandemic that people took issue with. At one point, stores were allowed to sell raffle tickets but had to cordon off other areas designated for furniture, gardening and paint, Runestad noted.

“It was her lack of thought in the process,” Runestad said of Whitmer’s executive orders restricting some daily activities.

The GOP senator said he had “no interest” in reading Whitmer’s new book.

Whitmer wrote that one of the biggest blunders of her career came during the pandemic, when she and her friends sat around a table at Landshark Bar & Grill in East Lansing for a photo in 2021. The arrangement defied an order from Whitmer’s state health department, which at the time stated that no more than six people could be seated together.

In the book, Whitmer noted that California Governor Gavin Newsom, who is also seen as a potential future Democratic presidential candidate, was criticized for attending a dinner at The French Laundry restaurant during the pandemic.

“So Gavin and I had that in common, even though he was dining at a three-Michelin-star restaurant and I was dining at a dive bar,” Whitmer wrote.

In a chapter titled “Searching to Understand,” Whitmer described the plan of a group of people angry about her COVID-19 guidelines to kidnap and harm her.

The governor said she learned of the plan from the head of her security team, Scott McManus, who told her the FBI had an informant in the group.

“There was no one-size-fits-all solution to the pandemic,” Whitmer wrote. “And it was ironic that the people who protested the stay-at-home orders most loudly did so in public, without masks, whenever and wherever they wanted.”

Whitmer said the kidnapping plot changed her. When she walks into an event, she scans the room, looking for anything that looks strange, the governor wrote.

Nine Whitmer plot suspects were convicted or accepted plea deals in state and federal courts, while five men were acquitted.

‘Gravity Gretchen’

The book is filled with stories about Whitmer’s family and her childhood. The governor frequently makes jokes about himself.

She wrote that she was nicknamed “Gravity Gretchen” by her father, Richard Whitmer, after she was pushed and fell during a youth group trip to West Virginia, knocking out her front teeth.

Whitmer, who is now married to dentist Marc Mallory, admitted she has had her teeth “redone all the time.”

When Whitmer served in the Michigan House of Representatives, she knocked out her front teeth, which were then on probation, during caucus meetings, she wrote.

“Most politicians would rather crawl into a cave than appear in public toothless, but I found it funny,” Whitmer wrote.

In another embarrassing story, Whitmer recounts the time she passed out in a parking lot after drinking during a soccer game. She was a sophomore at Forest Hills Central High School in Grand Rapids.

According to the book, her school principal found her “between two parked cars” and “Whitmer threw up on him.”

The student who would later become governor of Michigan was suspended for three days.

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