DETROIT (AP) – Former Wayne County Executive Edward McNamara, a throwback to the political power brokers of an earlier day and mentor to leading state Democrats including the governor, has died. He was 79.
McNamara died early yesterday of heart failure at Harper Hospital, said family spokesman Tim Johnson.
“We will miss his kindness, his compassion and his wit,” McNamara’s family said in a statement. “We celebrate his life and his many accomplishments and contributions that he made to Wayne County and the entire region.
“He was a great builder of infrastructure and he also believed in investing in people.”
As chief executive of Michigan’s most populous county from 1987-2002, McNamara oversaw a work force of more than 5,000 people and an annual budget of nearly $2 billion. He was mayor of Livonia from 1970-86.
He devoted much of his energy to improving Detroit Metropolitan Airport. A $1.6 billion makeover had as its centerpiece the lavish, spacious terminal designed by its main tenant, Northwest Airlines, and formally called the Edward H. McNamara Terminal at Northwest World GateWay.
McNamara, a Democrat, also mentored members of the party in the state, including Jennifer Granholm, the one-time county corporation counsel who went on to become state attorney general and now is governor; former Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan, now CEO of the Detroit Medical Center; and former U.S. Attorney Saul Green.
“To those of us who had the privilege of working for him, he gave a sense of possibility, toughness and duty to serve others,” Granholm said in a statement.
McNamara’s organization also played a significant role in Kwame Kilpatrick’s election as mayor of Detroit in 2001.
“Politicians of today, from me to Governor Granholm, have taken a page out of the McNamara political play book from time to time, and his influence on Michigan politics is etched in stone,” Kilpatrick said.
McNamara eliminated the $135 million deficit he faced upon taking office, restored the county’s bond rating on Wall Street to investment grade and started construction on a new juvenile detention facility in Detroit.
McNamara also helped negotiate deals for new baseball and football stadiums in downtown Detroit and launched an environmental initiative to clean and preserve the Rouge River and other waterways.
Following his death, Democrats weren’t alone in sharing memories of McNamara. L. Brooks Patterson, a Republican and county executive for Oakland County, which borders Wayne County, said: “I loved Ed McNamara. We never let politics get in the way of our friendship. He was truly a mentor to me.”
In McNamara’s honor, flags were to be flown at half-staff on the Wayne County building in downtown Detroit, said current Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano.
“Mr. McNamara spearheaded economic development investments that continue to expand and grow the region and the state,” Ficano said. “His legacy is far reaching and leaves an unsurpassed imprint on Wayne County and the state of Michigan.”
McNamara’s 40 years in politics, however, ended under a cloud of suspicion.
FBI agents and state police raided his office in November 2002, seeking evidence for a federal grand jury investigating alleged corruption in airport contracts and campaign fundraising by his administration. McNamara was never charged.
McNamara said he learned Dec. 31, 2002 – his last day in office as county executive – that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer of the infection-fighting lymphatic system. He received experimental radiation treatments followed by chemotherapy.