Carey Fights Back
Torrice battles Gieleghem, now, in future
Published: Sunday, September 27, 2009
By: Chad Selweski
In the real world, day-to-day politics is rarely as dramatic as it’s often portrayed on TV or in the movies. No shouting matches. No back-stabbing. No arm twisting. So, it’s probably not surprising that county Commissioner/Actress Carey Torrice was at the center of a big fight at the county board offices this past week, a scene that was worthy of a soap opera.The stage was set when Torrice, as chair of the Public Services Committee, took over one of the offices adjacent to the board chambers. That was against protocol. Then she put up a couple of movie posters and a mirror on the walls and hung a sign in the window that said, Commissioner/Actress Carey Torrice.That incensed county board Chairman Paul Gieleghem. The real drama began when Gieleghem marched into Torrice’s newly acquired office and demanded that she remove the posters — one featuring Sean Connery as James Bond, another with Reese Witherspoon that was created for the movie “Legally Blonde 2.”A shouting match ensued and expletives were soon hurled around the small room. I’m told that Gieleghem demanded that she follow the chairman’s orders, and she demanded that he get out of her office. Except her language was far more colorful.Within earshot of this eruption were employees and other commissioners.This whole episode could be dismissed as just a singular incident that will soon blow over. But this might be an example of the tension that has emerged in the board office and other departments as Gieleghem has tried to assert control and lead the county out of its ongoing budget crisis.The long-term impact of the incident may have come when the signature-blonde commissioner offered this little bombshell: She is mulling a run for state Senate in 2010 against Gieleghem.During the shouting match, Torrice told Gieleghem she would enter the Senate race and “kick your a–.” That was more than bluster, as Torrice has spent the past few days studying the 10th Senate District (Clinton Township, Sterling Heights, Utica and Roseville) and has concluded that she could win the seat.Many political observers might disagree with the part-time actress’ assessment. After all, it’s an open seat, with Sen. Mickey Switalski term-limited, and the race could attract a number of big-name candidates.Torrice and Gieleghem are both Clinton Township Democrats and they would be fighting over the same base of support.But the only one “fighting” may be Torrice, who is ready and willing to unleash a flurry of jabs at Gieleghem.”Gieleghem is a tyrant and a dictator. He’s made everyone miserable,” she told me. From her perspective, the shouting was “four years of pent-up anger. And I’m not going to take this from a ‘Bonior Boy’.”Torrice said the incident last week was not the first time that Gieleghem has screamed at her. When the April tax hike was approaching, she claimed that Gieleghem’s tactics included telling Torrice that her recently deceased mother, who had worked as a Democratic Party volunteer, would want her to support the increase.Torrice disagreed with that assertion about her mom and voted no.On Wednesday, after the outburst, Gieleghem promptly issued a memo that said the several offices on the 9th floor of the Administration Building are available to all commissioners and should not be decorated with personal belongings that “diminish or compromise the professionalism of the board office.”Torrice said she laughed at the ultimatum and promptly discarded the memo into the recycling bin. On Friday, county workers confiscated the posters and locked them away in a separate office. Torrice responded by filing a police report, and the posters were returned. She’s now threatening to take the county to court. Torrice is not the only county employee to assert that Gieleghem has developed a Napoleonic complex. At the same time, some commissioners consider Torrice’s flair for the dramatic an embarrassment to the county. The posters only added to the grumbling.Her poster for “Legally Blonde 2,” which Torrice considers an inside joke, refers to a film about a fashion-obsessed woman who is largely dismissed in her job on Capitol Hill. But the Barbie-like woman wins the respect of Washington through work as a congressional aide, pushing through legislation on animal rights.Of course, that’s in the movies.But Torrice is following the script.