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Thursday, October 21,2010

Remember Michael Milken?

Lansing gets thumbs-up from the Milken Institute and the mayor takes credit

by Andy Balaskovitz
Wednesday, Oct. 20 — Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s office — and his gubernatorial campaign headquarters — issued press releases today on a Milken Institute report that touted Lansing as one of the top 10 cities in the country for job growth.

Not bad. That’s ahead of Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. And Bernero is certainly accepting credit for the job well done as mayor.

But you might remember Michael Milken, the innovative financier who helped create high-yield, or “junk,” bonds more than 30 years ago and financed media mogul Ted Turner. You might say he was king of Wall Street for a time. That’s the same Wall Street that Bernero is running against.

Milken was indicted on 98 counts of various tax fraud and racketeering charges in 1989. He later pled guilty to six counts of securities fraud and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served less than two years.

Isn’t this the same kind of “Wall Street not Main Street,” venture-capitalist crowd Bernero loathes and associates with his Republican opponent Rick Snyder?

“Virg is against Wall Street unfairly throwing people out of their homes and shipping jobs overseas,” Bernero’s campaign spokesman Cullen Schwarz said. “But those guys can still count.”

“The point is, Lansing’s economy is doing well,” Schwarz said. He was not familiar with Milken’s background. “The report was based on objective numbers,” he said.

Bernero would take a pat on the back from any business on Wall Street, but that doesn’t mean he agrees with their business practices, Schwarz said.

“If the head of JPMorgan Chase says Virg is doing good job as mayor, he’d (Virg) agree with him on that and disagree with him on policies toward homeowners and small businesses in Michigan,” Schwarz said.

Milken founded the Milken Institute with his brother after his prison sentence. It claims to be a leading economic, nonpartisan think-tank, and Milken touts on his website that its annual Global Conference brings together more than 3,000 business leaders from about 60 nations every year.

Milken’s net worth in 2007 was $2.1 billion, according to Forbes Magazine.

Outside of his work of transforming Wall Street that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission found was illegal, Milken also started various medical research nonprofits to advance the science of cancer. Fortune magazine wrote a cover story on Milken in 2004 called “The Man who Changed Medicine.”

Jennifer Manfré, associate director of communications for the Institute, said Milken doesn’t decide or influence the research in any way. Manfré said she doesn’t see much of Milken, who balances his time between “numerous” philanthropies, she said.


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