Andy Dillon stepped away from public service today, resigning as Michigan’s Treasurer.
He took on an especially thankless job in 2011 after being vanquished in a tough governor’s race. Governor Rick Snyder won that battle but knew Dillon had talent and skill and a Lansing veteran’s feel for how to get things done. He asked Dillon to join his administration and apparently Dillon couldn’t resist staying in the political game.
A turnaround finance guy, Dillon had to have known by saying yes there was a distinct possibility he would preside over Detroit’s Chapter 9 filing. That was the theme of his deposition with AFSCME and UAW lawyers yesterday and turned out to be his last official act as Treasurer. We will know soon enough whether that will impact the city’s eligibility for bankruptcy at trial later this month. But, you have to wonder what he was thinking when he agreed to take the job knowing full well he would have to wade into the fetid waters of Detroit’s finances as well as other cash strapped cities like Allen Park and Highland Park. He took the job anyway.
Andy Dillon carried himself with a high end executive’s air, tall, fit, thin, smart, well spoken, nice suits. He had worked as a managing director for a big money Chicago private equity firm called Wynnchurch Capital. He made his real business bones in the McLouth Steel bankruptcy where he became president of DSC Limited after it purchased McLouth out of bankruptcy. Prior to that job, he was a vice president in General Electric Capital Corporation’s commercial finance division. Yet all of that that belies his blue collar Metro Detroit roots. He is a judge’s son from Redford Township who went to Notre Dame.
This was the Andy Dillon I first met in Lansing roughly ten years ago. He was different than the Lansing pols I had spent so much time covering. He did not have the polished banter. He was more a guy who wanted to get things done and thought with some business acumen and good intentions much could be accomplished in the government sector. He had a very sharp wit, good assessment skills when it came to problem solving and he had an easygoing manner capable of a quick quip.
He told me himself it was an utter shock to him when he was picked as house speaker; yet it was all of the aforementioned skills and a deft personal touch that put Andy in the limelight. I knew many who said he had aspirations to become governor and after spending some time watching him and interviewing him that did not seem like a good fit. Andy Dillon, for all his pedigree, was really just that “aw shucks” regular guy from Redford.
He had a certain guilelessness that the truly politically savvy expend many hours trying to hide. If you asked him a question he would give you the answer that first came to mind. Sometimes he would spend a few awkward seconds thinking about an answer that would come out even more awkward. Sometimes that answer did not have any rehearsed polish an experienced politician would normally spout when giving talking points on a particular issue.
He improved in that area over time, still that and his time as House Speaker during the Granholm administration trying to make something fiscally sound happen in Lansing with Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop led to some hard feelings in places like Detroit. Having covered many national level pols for more than three decades my assessment of Andy’s political skills led me to believe if he went after larger electoral fish he might just get the daylights beaten out of him. Sadly, no one could have predicted what actually happened to him and his family in the process.
For all of his sophisticated appearance Andy had that haircut. Google pictures of him and you find 25 versions of his slicked back yet oftentimes floppy coif. As time went on you could tell he had been going through a lot because from the neck up he looked like an unmade bed. While we might make light of such a silly personal preference, a look at what befell him and his family over the last year or so will make you wonder why he even showed up for work at all.
To quickly list what ails the Dillon family these days, Andy’s father John died last month. Andy and his wife divorced and as the newspaper headlines have read it was considerably less than a clean break. Andy’s son is sitting in a thumb area prison cell. Andy sought treatment for alcohol abuse. Andy has not lived in his Redford home, instead living with friends. All of this led to today’s announcement that it was time for Andy to step away. Whether you liked his politics or his financial judgment, and many did not, no one could wish this kind of stress and family implosion on him or anyone else.
There is no doubt Andy Dillon fought the good fight and paid an exceptionally dear price in the process. Michigan is poorer for his departure and Andy is clearly much poorer for taking the chance. We wish him luck as he tries to put his life back together.