At Romney's high school alma mater, students split on support

Courtesy of Cranbrook
Republican nominee Mitt Romney shakes hands with his father, George Romney, at his 1965 Cranbrook graduation. Buy this photo

By Sam Gringlas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 4, 2012

When the polls close Tuesday evening and electoral maps light up on screens across the nation, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will begin preparations.

The former Massachusetts governor and Michigan native will either start settling into the life of a defeated candidate or ready himself for four years in the White House.

But before all the rallies, debates, campaign yard signs and other efforts designed to propel Romney to Washington, young Mitt inhabited a place less foreign to Michiganders than the Beltway. Romney spent his formative years in Bloomfield Hills, an affluent Detroit suburb only 45 miles northeast of Ann Arbor.

As the time until Tuesday dwindles, neither campaign is giving up on winning over Bloomfield Hills and the state of Michigan. Even at Cranbrook, the elite college-preparatory school located in Bloomfield Hills that is Romney’s alma mater, allegiances remain divided.

It was among Cranbrook’s Tudor-style brick and stone buildings, nestled on 319 acres of converted farmland, that the future presidential candidate began seventh grade classes in 1959.

In May, the Washington Post article investigated Romney’s time at Cranbrook beyond his participation in the glee club, the cross country team and his role as hockey manager. Through interviews with his classmates, the Post detailed several Romney pranks, including an incident where Romney allegedly harassed a homosexual student.

“That definitely brought extra media attention,” Cranbrook senior George Gheordunescu, co-president of Cranbrook’s chapter of the Teenage Republicans, said. “You can’t go to Cranbrook and not feel connected to the student body. I would like Mitt Romney to be more open about his years at Cranbrook. He doesn’t talk about his years in school.”

To meet the demands of journalists digging into Romney’s Cranbrook years, the school created a page on its website to field requests for information and maintains a policy of not commenting on the election.

“It would certainly be a sense of enormous pride to have one of our alumni elected to the highest office in the land,” the website states. “However, as a matter of policy, Cranbrook Schools does not and will not endorse any political ideology, party or candidate.”

Karen Santana-Garces, the president of Cranbrook’s Club for Liberals and Democrats, said though students are excited about his status as an alum, it hasn’t been a critical driving force in influencing student support.

“It is exciting that he is an alumni, but that’s not really the main support that he has,” Club for Liberals and Democrats president Karen Santana-Garces said. “I think it’s more about your political beliefs.”

Gheordunescu said it’s hard to tell where the majority of student support lies. Like Santana-Garces, he said Romney’s Cranbrook roots haven’t played a significant role.

“A lot of people say it’s cool that Romney went to our school, but I don’t think they are going to make their decision based on that,” Gheordunescu said. “I don’t think that has as much of an effect as people might think.”

Both Gheordunescu and Santana-Garces emphasized the economy and college affordability as issues most important to students.

“Being able to afford a college education is a very important issue,” Gheordunescu said. “Once we graduate from college, we want to be able to find good jobs and start our own lives.”

Cranbrook tuition itself is comparable to that of a college education. While the school provides scholarships and financial aid, and bases tuition around a family’s income level, regular tuition costs $28,300 per year for families earning more than $150,000 annually.

Still, Cranbrook prides itself on a diverse student body, contributing to divided electoral sentiments.

While the Club for Liberals and Democrats and Teenage Republicans are working to educate students and encourage eligible voters to go to the polls, Santana-Garces said she notices more Romney support outside of Cranbrook’s gates in Bloomfield Hills. When driving down Lone Pine Road, a Bloomfield Hills street lined with trees and large homes, Santana-Garces said he she sees plenty of Romney-Ryan yard signs flanking the roadside.

Aaron Kall, director of the University of Michigan Debate team, said Obama currently holds a lead over Romney in the state, as Nov. 1 poll data released by the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV shows Obama holds 48 percent of state support, to Romney’s 42 percent.

Kall noted that while the lead is narrow, neither campaign has spent much time in the state, with Obama’s last appearance in April and Romney’s in August.

In 2008, Obama won Oakland County by 15 points, leading Michigan by a similar margin in the final results. Kall estimates Obama will carry Oakland County, where Cranbrook is located, this year by five or six points, the same margin Obama is polling in the state.

“The fact that Romney-Ryan have recently spent more time in long shot states like Pennsylvania and Minnesota led me to believe the campaign doesn’t think Michigan is currently in play,” Kall said.

Jermaine House, the Obama campaign’s deputy press secretary in Michigan, said Bloomfield Hills has strong support for the president and the campaign is working every day to turn out voters on Election Day.

“Michiganders, including those in Bloomfield Hills, stand with the President because he stood with them during the dark days of the auto industry crisis,” House said. “The auto industry supports one in five Michigan jobs, so the President’s decision to rescue the industry bodes well with Michiganders.”

For many in Michigan, Romney’s 2008 New York Times Op-Ed titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” was difficult to reconcile in a state whose economy is driven by the auto industry.

In the article, Romney emphasized his love for American cars, his Detroit roots and his father’s position as chairman and president of American Motors Corporation.

“In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check,” Romney wrote in 2008.

House said Romney’s plan would have cost one million jobs, a crippling blow for the state.

The Michigan Republican Party, the acting spokesmen of the Romney campaign in Michigan, could not be reached for comment.

While it is uncertain whether Romney’s branding as Michigan’s native son will deliver votes in Bloomfield Hills, Romney’s Detroit roots, along with his much-discussed views on the auto-bailout, have generated significant media attention focused on Metro Detroit and Cranbrook.

Romney has visited the campus of his alma mater in recent years. The school’s website said Romney las visited the campus in 2005 to receive an award from its alumni association. In 1995, Romney delivered Cranbrook’s commencement speech, encouraging students to make choices consistent with their deepest values.

“Will you choose to sit on the sidelines in the great battle for justice, equality of opportunity, decency, and freedom?” Romney said.

Almost 20 years later, Romney will spend the 24 hours days awaiting America’s choice in places like Bloomfield Hills and other towns across the country.

Toward the end of Romney’s commencement speech, he said: “Winning is not the only success; entering the fray is success, in and of itself.”

On Tuesday, voters will learn whether Romney will succeed in Bloomfield Hills, in Michigan and in attaining the highest office in the nation.