Fur coats, sequins, tuxedos, kilts, and ball gowns crowded the Cobo Center in Detroit the night of Jan. 1 for incoming Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's inaugural celebration.
Party-goers mostly included Detroit’s elite Democrats at $150 a ticket, but the event was about more than schmoozing, said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan. The bash was not only to celebrate new leadership in Michigan, but a stepping-off point for the future of the state’s Democrats.
“What you’re seeing tonight is incredible energy in the Democratic Party," Peters said. "Today was a great day. We have a great new governor, attorney general, secretary of state, all of our state legislature.”
Whitmer’s inauguration comes on the heels of a busy and controversial lame-duck session in Michigan’s Republican-controlled Legislature. Some bills passed in the House and Senate, including one to limit the power of the secretary of state, were vetoed by departing governor Rick Snyder.
“I was pleased that he did that,” Peters said. “I actually talked to him before and certainly encouraged him to take a look at those bills ... he did veto a number of bills that were clearly outrageous.”
Peters said the message of Michigan’s Democratic Party is “bringing people together.”
“I think we heard it today from Governor Whitmer,” he said. “Understanding we have to embrace the diversity we have as a state. We have to look on both sides of the political spectrum and bring people together to solve some of the very challenging problems we face as a state.”
Earlier in the day at the Governor’s swearing-in ceremony, the theme of her remarks was building bridges. The Mackinac Bridge was the predominant image of her campaign and was projected on the walls of the Cobo Center ballroom.
“How do we bring people back together?” Peters said. “We cannot continue this course of division.”
Peters said one way Democrats are hoping to demonstrate bipartisanship is through Whitmer’s infrastructure plan.
“Governor Whitmer has talked about building roads, about fixing our roads and bridges and infrastructure — that should not be a partisan issue," Peters said. "There aren’t Democratic roads or Republican roads. I think we can come together as a state and as a country and say 'these are the kinds of investments we need to make.'”
The new governor made a brief appearance at Cobo, flanked by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist.
“I am so grateful to be here with you,” Whitmer said, speaking to the attendees and to Duggan specifically. “Thank you for being a partner to me and I’m going to be a partner to you. We are going to be great things together for the people of this state.”
Whitmer said the historic number of voters in the midterm elections reflects what Michigan truly wants in its elected representatives.
“We want leadership that creates opportunity for every one of us, right?” she said, addressing the crowd. “Let’s have some fun tonight, but tomorrow let’s roll up our sleeves and fix the damn roads.”
Gilchrist echoed her statements.
“I think the fact that we saw the most Democratic voters in 40 or 50 years speaks to the strength of the movement we can build together,” he said.
Gilchrist said for the Democratic Party going forward, diversity at the top would be key. He added that focusing on problems felt by people across the state was essential for achieving the bipartisanship so heavily discussed in his and Whitmer’s inaugural remarks.
Warfield Moore, a lifelong Detroit resident and former staffer for retired U.S. Rep John Conyers, D-Michigan, said he thinks Whitmer will be great for the state. He said he felt Whitmer's campaign was compassionate, and that’s why he supported her in the election.
“At this particular time, there couldn’t have been a better person put in the position that she’s in to help do what needs to be done to move Michigan forward,” Moore said.