Upset-minded Cooney focusing campaign on widening the middle class

Published 11:16 pm Monday, October 11, 2010

Don Cooney

Don Cooney


Niles Daily Star

The campaign trail has been different this year for Don Cooney, who is making a second attempt at unseating Fred Upton in Michigan’s 6th Congressional District race.

In 2008, Upton defeated the Kalamazoo Democrat with 59 percent of the vote. It was Upton’s lowest margin of victory since 1990.

“Last year I didn’t campaign enough outside Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor,” Cooney said in an interview with the Star Monday. “So I spent this whole summer outside of Kalamazoo and it’s paying off.”

But that’s not the only difference the seven-term Kalamazoo city commissioner has noticed during this year’s campaign.

“An overall dissatisfaction with incumbents is helping us,” he said. “So I think there’s a really good chance that we could pull off the biggest upset in the country.”

It would truly be a David over Goliath upset, considering Upton has been locked in his current position for 12-straight terms and has more than $1 million in campaign money at his disposal.

But Cooney is quick to point out in the Republican primary election, Jack Hoogendyk tallied 43 percent of the vote against Upton.

The main reason Cooney is making another attempt at the congressional seat is he wants to see changes in policy to “widen and deepen the middle class.”

Cooney, who teaches social work and history at Western Michigan University, says the middle class has drastically shrunk in the past 30 years due to changes in policy.

“The policy became about increasing the economy. If we take care of businesses, they will take care of the people. That’s the wrong approach,” he said.

He believes the government can create jobs and widen the middle class through investing in infrastructure projects and focusing on renewable resources.

A renewed focus on education would also help energize a sluggish economy, according to Cooney.

“We used to lead the world in people who graduated college. Now we’re 12th,” he said.

Cooney is a supporter of the stimulus act but says “it was too small.” He pointed out it did some good in Kalamazoo with 10 city police officers able to retain their jobs thanks to stimulus dollars.

Health care reform is also a big issue for Cooney, who supports a single-payer health care system.

“Treating health care as a commodity, like how you get a car or a yacht, that’s not right,” he said. “Health care is a human right.”

Even though he has little experience in politics, Cooney feels he is fully qualified for the job.

He says he has book and street smarts, having earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate degree and having spent six years as a community organizer in Brooklyn, among other social activism projects.

Cooney and Upton will square of in their third debate today at Kalamazoo’s Cityscape Event Center at 7 p.m. Recordings of their two previous debates can be found at and

Editor’s note: Cooney’s challenger, incumbent U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, will be featured in Thursday’s issue of the Star.