Interview, Michigan Democrats, Politics — March 31, 2014 at 8:46 am

INTERVIEW: Catching up with Tony Trupiano


“I truly believe that this is my destiny.”

Photo by Anne C. Savage

I first met Tony Trupiano shortly after he returned to the radio airwaves after an unsuccessful run to unseat Thad McCotter in Congress. Tony’s morning radio show, First Shift with Tony Trupiano was a progressive breath of fresh air amidst the plethora of right wing radio hosts. The show later changed to an evening radio program, Night Shift with Tony Trupiano until it ended several months ago when Tony threw his hat in the ring to run for the state House of Representatives in the 13th House District.

Tony has nearly two decades of experience on the radio and had a nationally syndicated show prior to his run for Congress. In addition to that, he has run three different restaurants including one downriver in Wyandotte. His years as a progressive radio show host have connected him to nearly every issue progressives work on from the environment and labor to women’s rights and education. His experience gives him a unique perspective on politics, candidates, office holders, and state policy. There are few people who can speak about progressive topics in a more informed way than he can.

After having gastric bypass surgery a couple of years ago, Tony has lost nearly 200 pounds. After that he had surgeries following a trip-and-fall accident and then a hernia that he didn’t even know he had, Tony is now back in fighting form, ready to take on the new challenge of running for a seat in the state legislature.

I caught up with Tony this weekend to see what he’s been up to since he left radio a little over three months ago to run for office. As a regular guest on his two most recent radio shows, I was in the unique position to interview him instead of the other way around.


You’ve been off the air for, what, three months now?

Yeah, a little over three months.

So, what’s been up with you since then? Let’s start with your new job. You’ve got a new job with one of the unions, right?

Yes, I am the legislative director of the United Food and Commercial Workers local 876 which has been an amazing learning experience up to this point. As involved as I have been in politics and activism, I’ve come to realize that there is a whole other strata of the political process that I did not have access to. I’ve been fortunate enough to get some training, I’ve attended some conferences and I am learning a great deal every single day.

Now that we’re in an election cycle, as I learn more and as more candidates reach out to me in my new role, I have a deeper appreciation, not only as a candidate but also as a legislative director, of the challenges that people face. It’s not easy being a candidate! There’s a lot expected of you.

When you say you have access to things that you didn’t have access to before, what types of things are you talking about?

In some cases, it’s access to just some basic information. For example, I went to a conference on ballot initiatives and how to write language which was fascinating. There is a whole science to how you write a ballot initiative. How you utilize polling is another seminar that I went to. That’s all based on science. I don’t think most people understand that it’s not simply a matter of calling people and asking their opinion. Nothing is that simple. That’s the kind of stuff where I now have a deeper appreciation for the work or, if you will, the investment that a campaign will make in polling and how important that is.

I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to see Mark Schauer both inside the state and outside the state. He continues to get better at what he’s doing. It’s kinda fun to watch him mature as a candidate. Running for statewide office like he is, you really need to know what audience you’re speaking to. That’s important. And these are some of the things I’ve learned, Chris.

The work that you’re doing with the United Food and Commercial Workers, that’s a statewide position?

Correct. The UFCW actually has two locals, 876 and 951. Local 876 that I work for represents Kroger and Rite Aid workers. 951 represents mostly Meijer workers. And we have our challenges. Right to work is affecting what we do and the way we reach out to people. Although we have a contract through 2017, we need to make sure that we deepen those relationships. You have to keep in mind, Chris, that a lot of our members are part-time employees so keeping them engaged and politically active, there’s some work there. Our business agents are incredible

Do you miss the radio? You spent a lot of your life in front of the microphone.

Of course I do miss it. I mostly miss it when there’s a big story. It’s amazing, although I’ve been off the air for a little over three months now, Congress is still doing nothing. Nothing’s changed there. It’s insane there. But the downing of Flight 370 would have been really fascinating radio fodder. So, when those big stories break, I’d love to be on the air right now to talk about them.

And there are some important things happening right now. For example, as you know, the union that I represent is very much in favor of raising the minimum wage and to see the kind of response that issue is getting is very gratifying. I’m sure you’ve seen that President Obama is coming your neck of the woods in Ann Arbor this week to talk about raising the minimum wage.

Another thing is that, as a member of the Michigan Democratic Party, Bill Clinton is going to be our keynote speaker at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner next month.

You have to give credit to Lon Johnson. He’s bringing in the heavy hitters.

Absolutely. I was so pleased when I got that notice. If people want to go, they better get their tickets soon!

You betchya. That’s a good point. I need to do that!

Going back to the minimum wage thing for a minute. This seems like one of the rare times in my memory where all of the Democrats are speaking with the same voice on an issue. Would you agree with that? Locally, statewide, at the federal level. Everybody is talking about raising the minimum wage.

Yeah. It’s interesting, Connecticut was the first state to raise the minimum wage. They did that on Thursday, I believe. I can’t tell you how many people forwarded me that story from around the country. As you know, I’ve been doing radio for the better part of twenty years so I have lots of friends and colleagues throughout the country. The Democrats, with a singular voice, a singular message are standing behind something that makes sense and is being done properly. People need to understand the way it’s built. It doesn’t go from $7.40/hour to $10.10/hour overnight. It’s a process. So, people need to be educated about that.

But you’re right. The Democrats ARE unified on this issue. What this shows us is that, if you can do that with this issue — minimum wage — why can’t you do it with other issues?

I was at a candidates training and we were asked the question, “Why are you running?” I was the last person to speak and I said, “Well, I certainly agree with what everyone else has said. But, more importantly, I believe that I can deliver something that the Democratic Party hasn’t had in a long time and that’s a messenger that knows how to dialogue not just with the media but with actual constituents. I plan to be very, very active and very, very vocal. That’s part of the reason that I’m running. I know how to talk to people. I’m not ashamed of that and it’s not about my ego. It’s just what I do.

That’s right. Exactly. You’ve spent your whole life doing it. I think that makes you uniquely qualified to run for the state House or Senate because you have been all over all of the issues. You’ve talked with the experts on these issues. There are very few people who are more well-informed than you are.

I appreciate that. I was in an event last week up in Lansing and I ran into our mutual friend Ellen Cogen-Lipton. And she couldn’t thank me enough for all of the work that I did on the air regarding the failed Education Achievement Authority. Your name came up, too, of course. Eclectablog has been great at getting the truth out on that. But she was so grateful and that’s rewarding in and of itself.

It is. She and Senator Hopgood, those two have been voices in the wilderness, essentially yelling down a mineshaft for a long time without getting much attention. It was only through your show and the writing that I’ve been doing more recently they started getting some traction on this stuff. It really goes to show how it can be done correctly. This is one thing that the Republicans do really well. They put out an idea then it just gets amplified and echoed and it ricochets around and they turn it into something much bigger than it would have been otherwise. We don’t do that as well and I think that the education stuff and the EAA stuff is an example of it being done properly.

I don’t disagree with that and I think it’s important that we continue to dialogue. We sit in the minority in both the House and the Senate, we have an entire administration that is Republican from our Secretary of State to our Attorney General to our Governor, yadda yadda yadda. Even if we don’t win on the issues, I don’t think that it’s a waste of our time to dialogue about them. I don’t think it’s a waste of time to rally about them. I don’t think it’s a waste of our time to fight for them because ultimately you’re educating people, which is important, and like everything else, if you hold onto it long enough, and I’m hoping that long enough means November 2014, come January, if we flip the House, we can start to undo some of this. It’s going to take a lot of work.

I’ve seen that with the EAA issue. The Senate Republicans did not have enough votes to pass that in the last week. And obviously the House Republicans struggled. It was only when they brought on a couple of Democrats that they were able to get enough votes. And putting up a good fight is an element of that. And getting the truth out. It’s not only a matter of the fight. In this case, and I’ve said this to multiple individuals and groups, with the EAA issue, my audience for the EAA was not the Democrats (at least I didn’t think it was going to be until Santana jumped ship.) But my audience was mostly Republicans and that’s a weird thing for a liberal blogger to talk about. We need to be sure that the Republicans had the facts and it made a difference, it really did. And it’s STILL making a difference because the Senate is still having issues with it. So, I agree, even times when we’re in the minority, we need to keep pressing the issues. Continuously getting the truth out and pushing back and getting our message out, as well.

Absolutely. I want to give some credit to the leadership of the House Dems, especially, and certainly you could include Senator Whitmer in there, too. But Tim Greimel and Sam Singh and Brandon Dillon and Vicki Barnett and, again, Ellen Cogen-Lipton … I could just go on and on and on … these people have been champions on issues knowing full well that they’re not going to win, that they’re not going to get their day in court, if you will. But it hasn’t stopped them from dialoguing and educating and empowering and motivating people. As a candidate, I’m seeing this from a different perspective than as a radio show host. I’m just so pleased that, under the leadership of Representative Greimel, the caucus is much more engaged with their constituents than I have ever seen and I mean EVER, Chris.

Tim Greimel has turned out to be a really good choice for Democratic House Leader. I think he really came out of nowhere for a lot of people. There were a lot of folks who didn’t know his name at all and he’s impressed me.

Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more.

The initial reason that you took a break from the radio program was that you had surgery. How has that gone? How’s your health been? What’s your future looking like?

Well, my future is looking just fine and I want to thank you for asking. You may know that I posted something on social media to clear the air on this. I had four abdominal surgeries in less than two years. So, there has been a longer recovery period than normally you would expect. With that being said, I am, for intents and purposes, healthy. I’m fine. It’s just that my midsection — what’s called the core of your body — is weak. In fact, I was at the doctor yesterday and they’re checking my blood work, they’re making sure that I’m okay and that everything is fine. But, it takes time to recover from that many surgeries in that period of time.

I try to keep a good attitude. I try to push myself a little more each day and let the cards fall where they may. It’s not going to stop me from knocking doors. It’s not going to stop me from doing my campaign and I think I’m doing really well.

You sound strong, that’s for sure.

So, you had gastric bypass. And you also had a tummy tuck, right?

The sequence was that I had the gastric bypass. Then I tripped over my dog going up the stairs one day and ended up with some internal bruising that required surgery, again in my midsection. Then, months later, I had a tummy tuck and when they went in to do the tummy tuck they found that I had a hernia so they had to correct the hernia before they could do the tummy tuck.

The good news is that all of this stuff is corrected now. You know I’ve had people approach me and tell me I’ve lost too much weight. I don’t really disagree with that. I’m actually in the process of gaining a little of weight. Had this happened to anybody else in any other job or in any other environment, nobody would think twice about it. But, now that I’m a candidate, people are going to raise fears and people are going to want to make a bid deal about it. Let ’em. I don’t care. I have always been honest and that’s all I can do, Chris. That’s all I can do.

How much weight have you lost?

180 pounds.

That’s amazing. I can understand why people would comment on the big change in your appearance. And the day after the tripping accident, you went out and emceed the Save Our Public Schools rally, right?


Well, you clearly have an abundance of energy, even when you’re injured!

Look, I truly believe that this is my destiny. This campaign, this election, my point of view, my skill set. If people find that arrogant, I don’t care. This is my destiny. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel very confident about that. I’m very passionate about that and I know this state. I know I can help my district. I’m just waiting for the weather to break. That’s been kind of challenging. It’s hard to knock doors when it’s 30 degrees out!

For everybody, right?! It’s been a crazy year.

It has been crazy. But, it is what it is and everybody has to deal with it so we do what we have to do.

You’re from the area where you’re running, right? You probably know a lot of the people when you’re out knocking on doors.

Yeah, I’ve lived here in Dearborn Heights for about 18 years now. Of the three restaurants that I’ve owned, one of them was in Wyandotte, downriver. So, I got to know that area and those people really, really well. The three communities that I would represent are Southgate, Allen Park, and a piece of Dearborn Heights. As you know, Allen Park is under the control of an Emergency Manager. I’m going to be reaching out to the mayor of Allen Park next week and asking him sit down and let me know how things are going there. I am, of course, still offended at what the legislature did after everybody worked so hard to defeat Public Act 4 to then turn around and then write a bill that was almost exactly the same and pass it during lame duck. That was just so disrespectful to the people of Michigan.

Joyce Parker is the Emergency Manager there, right?

Yes, that’s correct.

I’m following up on some information that I got that shows the city of Allen Park is late paying something like a half million dollars in taxes owed to the County on properties owned by the City of Allen Park and under Joyce Parker’s purview. I’ll have something published about that soon.

The Governor certainly has some issues that he’s dealing with right now and he needs to be held accountable. One of the things that I’m talking a lot about on the campaign trail is transparency. I have not lived a perfect life, Chris. Nor have you or anybody else. But, when you have a guy that claims that he’s not a politician doing what he has done to the infrastructure of this state, both politically and physically or in any other way you might wish to name, Rick Snyder is a dishonest guy who cares nothing about the middle class and, for all intents and purposes, has done more to destroy the good will of this state than any governor we’ve ever had.

And that’s saying a lot because we had John Engler!

He’s a lot worse than John Engler ever was.

I agree with you and that’s saying something. John Engler was a terrible thing for our state. I think that Rick Snyder is everything John Engler wanted to be. He’s gotta be going, “Wow! Why couldn’t I have done that?!”

The story that broke this week about his cousin was shameful and for the Governor respond in the way that he did, saying that it’s just “election year politicking”… Well, the facts are the facts. He just doesn’t care about the facts.

He’d throw Richard Baird under the bus before he’d ever take any personal responsibility.

Baird is a real problem, as well. There’s enough time left in this year that, from a legal standpoint, if someone stepped up and charged the administration, and I wouldn’t know what, I’m not a lawyer and wouldn’t want to be one, but I have to imagine that some of this behavior is not legal.

Well, thanks for taking time to chat with me, Tony. Good luck with your race. I ran for school board once and that about broke my back so I can’t imagine how difficult it is to run for the legislature like you are.

Thanks so much, Chris.

You can learn more about Tony’s campaign for the 13th District House seat HERE. Follow him on Twitter at @TonyTrupiano and on Facebook HERE.