LANSING (AP) – Gov. Jennifer Granholm is going into her last year in office and her reelection campaign without chief of staff Rick Wiener.
Wiener, 58, said yesterday he will leave his post on Nov. 1. John Burchett, head of the Democratic governor’s office in Washington will take over for Wiener. Burchett will begin some of his new job responsibilities next month.
Wiener said he isn’t worried that his departure will hurt the governor’s campaign. She’s expected to face Republican businessman Dick DeVos in the November 2006 election.
“I would never, ever desert her if I were worried about that,” Wiener told reporters Tuesday.
Granholm has not yet officially said she’s running, but a “Granholm for Governor” Website urges supporters to donate their time and money to her campaign.
Burchett, a native of Grosse Pointe Woods, has been friends with Granholm and her husband, Dan Mulhern, since the three met while attending Harvard Law School, said Granholm communications director Genna Gent.
Yesterday, Granholm called Burchett a “tremendous closer, a tremendous organizer and an incredibly smart person.”
Burchett, 43, has served in a number of positions in Washington since moving there in 1997. Before heading east, he was an assistant corporation counsel in Wayne County, specializing in real estate and economic development projects for three years.
Granholm was Wayne County’s corporation counsel before she won the attorney general’s seat in 1998. She won the governor’s race in 2002 and asked Wiener to head her transition team and then to be her chief of staff.
Daniel Beattie will replace Burchett as the director of Michigan’s office in Washington, Granholm announced later yesterday. Beattie, 39, currently is the office’s deputy director and handles a number of issues, including transportation, energy and natural resources.
Granholm emphasized that it was Wiener’s decision to leave.
“While I knew about it a couple of months ago, and I’ve done everything I can to try to convince him to change his mind, this is Rick’s decision,” Granholm said. “He will not be leaving the team, he will just be in a different role.”
Wiener said he would not discuss his future plans until after he leaves the administration. He was the state Democratic Party chairman from 1983-89 and then ran a lobbying business in Lansing with his wife, Raj. He divested himself of his share in the lobbying business before becoming chief of staff.
Then-GOP Chairwoman Betsy Devos had complained last year to the state Ethics Board that a conflict of interest existed with Wiener working as Granholm’s chief of staff while his wife owned a lobbying firm. The bipartisan board unanimously voted against starting an investigation, saying DeVos did not mention any instances of wrongdoing in her complaint.
Yesterday, Wiener listed the grueling schedule that goes with a campaign as one of the reasons for his departure.
“I likened the situation to kind of like driving a car. I’m not out of gas, and I wasn’t out of gas, but as I looked at my dashboard, the light was blinking,” he said. “I felt at the time, and continue to, that at some point I would run out of gas.”
Wiener said the timing of his announcement was good. He pointed to a recent bipartisan spending agreement for the fiscal year that starts in a few weeks and to the progress that’s being made on adjusting business taxes and boosting the state’s economy.
Bill Rustem, an environmental aide to former Gov. William Milliken who now is vice president of Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants, said Tuesday’s announcement is understandable.
“It’s far enough in front of the election so that they’re able to develop new relationships,” Rustem said. “You can’t do it in April next year because you would be in the throes of the campaign.”
Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, a Wyoming Republican, said in a statement that Wiener was a tremendous asset to Granholm.
“I’ve known Rick for 30 years and have always appreciated his forthrightness,” Sikkema said. “It’s been a pleasure working with him as the governor’s chief of staff because his honesty and integrity always shined through. Rick represents what is good and decent about public service. He set a high standard that we should all aspire to.”
U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak) gave Wiener credit for the experience he brought to the job but said Burchett brings a wealth of experience as well.