University Regent Denise Ilitch (D–Bingham Farms) announced yesterday she won’t be throwing her hat into the race for governor of Michigan. Prior to yesterday’s announcement, Ilitch was widely rumored to be among the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination if she had entered the race.
In a statement released yesterday, Ilitch — who has been a University regent since 2008 — said she didn’t think she would have enough time before the primary election on Aug. 3 to carry out a thorough campaign.
“Through a methodical planning process, I saw that the message, resources, and many key endorsements would be there, but concluded that the compressed election year calendar would not allow me to run the kind of campaign for governor I believe Michigan needs at this time,” Ilitch wrote in her statement. “And that stubborn fact is the one and only reason why I am not running for governor today.”
Ilitch, who is also a Detroit businesswoman, reinforced her statement in a teleconference with reporters yesterday afternoon. In the call, she told media outlets that she would have needed more time to make a successful run.
“I felt as though much, much more planning needed to be done,” Ilitch said on the conference call. “The box that continued to be unchecked was time, and that was something I could not control.”
The election cycle “would not allow me to run the kind of campaign for governor I believe Michigan needs at this time,” Ilitch said in the yesterday’s statement. However, Ilitch added that with an extra six months she likely would have entered the race and had enough time to prepare.
The speculation that Ilitch was considering a run for the post began last month when Lt. Gov. John Cherry — widely considered to be the Democratic frontrunner at the time — said he wouldn’t enter the race due to his campaign’s financial woes.
In mid-January, Ilitch began meeting with Democratic party leaders, even making a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with officials at the White House, including President Barack Obama.
Those who were supporting Ilitch’s run for the Democratic bid believed she would be a good candidate because she is not affiliated with the current administration of Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and because she has business and legal experience.
Ilitch is the former CEO and president of Ilitch Holdings, Inc., the business that owns the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Tigers, Little Caesars Enterprises — the pizza company founded by her father, Michael Ilitch — and Olympia Entertainment.
An alum of the University, Ilitch is also of counsel at the Detroit-based law firm Clark Hill PLC, and owner of Ilitch Enterprises and Ambassador Magazine.
But despite yesterday’s announcement that she would not seek the governor’s seat this year, Ilitch didn’t rule out running for office again in the future.
“Though I will not run for this office now, I will keep the door open to other opportunities, as I believe that public service is the highest calling,” Ilitch said in her statement.
State Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith (D–Salem) and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero are the only two Democratic candidates to have officially entered the race thus far. Smith announced her plan to run for governor last summer, while Bernero did the same earlier this week.
House Speaker Andy Dillon (D–Redford) has yet to officially enter the race, though he formed an exploratory committee last month.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily last night, Smith said Ilitch’s decision not to vie for the governor’s seat hasn’t changed her outlook on the race.
“I was in this race; I’m in this race to go,” Smith said last night. “I have a strong vision for Michigan and my experience helps me understand when I make bold moves how to keep the state in balance as we move forward with an aggressive agenda for the state.”
Smith said Ilitch was smart in considering the time crunch.
“She may well have found the season short,” Smith said. “But you don’t make decisions about something so important at the last minute and she’s right.”
Smith said she plans on reaching out to Ilitch for campaign support moving forward and, if elected governor, looks forward to working with Ilitch.
—Daily News Editor Kyle Swanson contributed to this report.