Planes Trains And Feet

    The mayoral race is mobilizing, albeit on foot. Many camps have been heard from, but not many have stepped forward.

    The exception, of course, is GeorgeHeartwell, who got a jumpstart on the race with his early (real early) announcement.

    Now Heartwell is mobilizing the troops. He and his supporters are putting on their walking shoes and gearing up for a trek through the precincts slated to begin in mid-April.

    If former Gov. JohnEngler had his Oldsmobile and U.S. Rep. PeterHoekstra had his bicycle, then Heartwell figures his Nikes will work just as well.

    On Saturday, Heartwell was hosting a training meeting with 142 volunteer precinct coordinators at the West Side Complex. During the event, Heartwell was expected to announce the formation of the Youth Corps, a movement to engage young people in the civic process. Hopefully, their sneakers are in good condition.

    He also was scheduled to announce his Community Cabinet, a citywide group of volunteers that would provide a new means for citizens to access city services and influence policy decisions.

    Heartwell and the volunteers also planned to warm up for their April walk through the precincts by marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Grand Rapids.

    So far, Heartwell claims to have garnered $53,000 in contributions toward his campaign. Even at today’s prices, that would buy a lot of Nikes.

    • Foot travel isn’t for everyone, but neither, apparently, is rail. Amtrak was heard making its annual (recurring) plea for more money to keep its West Michigan-Chicago service alive. If the money wasn’t forthcoming, neither would be the service after March 31.

    Riding to the rescue was Rep. BillHuizenga, R-Zeeland, who co-sponsored a bill that lifts an internal, technical funding cap on previously appropriated money to allow the rail line to continue service in Michigan. The current law limits funding to $5.7 million, but the legislation will free up enough for a $7.1 million boost to continue service.

    Whew! Another train wreck is averted for another year.

    • We’ve touched on the trains and automobiles (and foot) portions, so what about the planes?

    Well, they’re coming to Muskegon this summer for the annual air fair. In fact, the famous Blue Angels will be making (an unheard of) two-day appearance at this year’s extravaganza on the lakeshore, according to MikeMarn, vice president/executive creative director for Francis Marketing, which is promoting the show.

    “Nobody gets the Blue Angels for two days,” Marn said. Of course, scheduling over the (Friday) July 4 weekend helps the cause just a little bit.

    • That’s assuming, of course, that all military flyers won’t be busy elsewhere in the world this summer.

    To get a little insight into the Middle East situation, check out tonight’s offering from the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan. It’s called “U.S. and Saudi Arabia — The Odd Couple,” and features GeorgeLopez, a Middle Eastern scholar at the University of Notre Dame.

    WAC Executive Director DixieAnderson said Lopez will discuss how the U.S.-Saudi relationship is affected by the war on terrorism and a possible war with Iraq. The presentation is at 7 p.m., March 17, at the Prince Conference Center at Calvin College. It’s part of the Great Decisions Foreign Policy Lecture Series and tickets are $5 at the door.

    • On the home front, it looks like another one of West Michigan’s pillars of business is feeling the crunch. Word has it that FredKeller will reorganize Cascade Engineering soon and eliminate up to 40 jobs. Then he’ll re-evaluate everything in six months.

    Keller, Business Journal readers might recall, recently landed a director’s spot on the Kellogg Foundation board and intimated that he was really looking forward to spending time with that philanthropic endeavor. As of now, there is no official connection between the two events.

    • A great many investors have sweaty palms about the 20 percent or ____ (fill in choice up to 50) percent erosion that has taken place in their 401(k) or IRA portfolios. And well they might.

    But in preparing for this week’s Focus section on investments, some of us got moist hands about something else. The Wall Street Journal editorial concerning the fact that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are capitalized far below the percentage required of regulated banking institutions is, at best, disconcerting. Oh, and just an FYI, neither is backed by the federal government.

    If you missed it, the commentary came in the wake of a strong wake-up plea from WilliamPoole, president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, for some meaningful regulation of the two entities. Reportedly, AlanGreenspan agrees foursquare with him about the need for regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

    “Should either firm be rocked by a mistake or by an unforecastable shock,” opined the Journal, “in the absence of robust contingency arrangements the result could be a crisis in U.S. financial markets that would inflict considerable damage.”

    Significant as in, like, maybe an Enron-style collapse involving a quarter of the nation’s residential mortgages?

    And then the Grand Rapids Business Journal came across another frightening item. Namely, it’s that one model of risk concerning the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. gives a 1-in-20 chance that in eight years the institution could be $11 billion — that’s “b” for “billion” — in deficit.

    Apparently at Guaranty, as in life, there are no guarantees.

    • You know all that road salt that West Michigan road authorities have saved during a decade of mild winters?

    Well, they’re still saving it. Shoreline residents discovered during Thursday morning’s snowfall that the Ottawa and Muskegon county road commissions still were saving their salt for, well, maybe a rainy day. The first signs of de-icing on I-96 were detectible between the Marne and Fruit Ridge interchanges.

    The bottom line: Thursday’s commute was the scariest of the winter — a dizzy drive on White Knuckle Highway where the high-speed antics of SUV and pickup drivers raised jitters to 9.7 on the Adrenaline Scale.  

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