Whitmer says husband's boat dock request was bad joke: 'I wasn't laughing either'
LANSING – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday that her husband made a failed attempt at humor last week when he asked a boat contractor whether his status as Michigan's "First Gentleman" would help him get his boat in the water ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.
"He thought it might get a laugh," Whitmer said of her husband, dentist Marc Mallory.
"It didn't, and to be honest I wasn't laughing either when it was relayed to me because I knew how it would be perceived."
She said the controversy was the result of "a failed attempt at humor."
Whitmer said her husband regrets what he said and she called on Michiganders to show kindness and empathy as the state deals with the COVID-19 pandemic that will be around for some time.
Earlier, Whitmer's office would not comment on whether Mallory cited his unique status when he contacted NorthShore Dock LLC, north of Traverse City, before the Memorial Day holiday.
"We’re not going to make it a practice of addressing every rumor that is spread online," Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said Monday.
State Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, said Monday that he felt he unknowingly became part of a cover-up of the incident, having removed his Facebook post about the incident Friday night after officials in Whitmer's office reached out to him through the Senate Republican leader's office to say the allegations made by an owner of the boat company were untrue.
Barrett said Tuesday he does not find Whitmer's explanation credible. "The governor needs to explain why (her staff) was so insistent on Friday that it wasn't true, if the whole thing was a bad joke," Barrett said. "I will never trust them again."
Whitmer's remarks did not address whether her staff had called Senate Republicans to deny Mallory had made the remarks.Whitmer spokeswoman Chelsea Lewis did not respond to an email asking whether Whitmer's officials had told Senate Republicans on Friday that Mallory never made such remarks.
Michigan Republicans were not amused.
"Using your wife's political office to score favors is not a laughing matter," Laura Cox, the state party chairwoman, said in a news release.
"How many times has Gov. Whitmer's husband told this 'joke' to gain special favors from businesses? The only joke here is that Gov. Whitmer doesn’t seem to understand how serious it is for a family member to misuse your office."
Whitmer said it's been a tough 12 weeks for Michigan in dealing with COVID-19 and there is a need to keep perspective, remembering the pandemic is about families who have lost loved ones, residents who have lost jobs, and first responders who are sacrificing to keep everyone else safe.
"This crisis is not about me, and it never has been," she said.
During a recent demonstration outside the governor's official residence in Lansing, "my family had men with rifles standing" outside their front window, she said. "My daughters have seen a likeness of their mother hanged from a noose in effigy" at other demonstrations at the Capitol.
"We have seen an explosion of rampant rumors about and violent death threats against my family and me," Whitmer said. She called on Michiganders to not allow the pandemic to bring out "our worst selves."
More:Senator alleges cover-up over boat dock incident involving Whitmer's husband
More:New flood lawsuit claims Michigan mismanaged dam
Whitmer said Tuesday that her policy of not commenting on her whereabouts or every social media post about her or her family will continue, though she wanted to comment on the recent allegations involving her husband. She said she did not even go to her family's cottage over the long weekend and her husband had made only one trip there earlier, staying one or two nights.
"My husband did go to our place in Antrim County and raked some leaves," she said. "We did not all pile in the car to go enjoy our second home, although that would have been permitted."
Earlier easing of the stay home order allowed Michigan residents to travel Up North to a second residence.
Barrett, who could not immediately be reached after Whitmer's 3 p.m. news conference, said he removed his own Friday Facebook post about the dock incident after Whitmer's office told officials in the Senate GOP leader's office the report was false — only to later receive further confirmation that led Barrett to believe it was in fact true.
"I was drawn into a cover-up by the Governor and her staff," Barrett said on Facebook on Monday.
"In the Army, leaders eat last after every one of their soldiers has eaten," said Barrett, a U.S. Army veteran. "They lead by example. Real leaders don’t cut in line and not follow their own demands placed on the rest of us."
The alleged incident drew international attention, including an article in London's Daily Mail.
Tad Dowker, an owner of NorthShore Dock, said in a widely circulated Facebook post late last week Mallory contacted his company about getting a boat in the water at the family's northern Michigan cottage ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.
The reported call from Mallory came after Whitmer announced she was easing her stay-at-home order in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, but cautioned at a May 18 news conference that Michiganders who do not live Up North should think "long and hard" before heading up there and risking the spread of COVID-19.
Dowker, who later removed his Facebook post but has stood by its contents, said he "was out working when the office called me" and said "there was a gentleman on hold who wanted his boat in the water before the weekend."
Because it was a holiday weekend and the company was three weeks behind because of the stay home order, there was "no chance" that would happen, Dowker said in the post.
His staff explained that to Mallory, who said: "I am the husband to the Governor," and asked whether that would make a difference, according to Dowker's post.
"As you can imagine, it does make a difference, that would put you to the back of the line!!!" Dowker said on Facebook. "Needless to say, our Governor and her husband will not be getting their boat" for Memorial Day.
"Too good not to share," Dowker said. "I love it when karma comes around, even if just in small doses."
Though polls show broad support in Michigan for the stay home order and other actions Whitmer has taken to control the spread of COVID-19, she has also faced severe criticism, demonstrations, and even death threats. State Republicans have pushed for a more rapid reopening of Michigan's economy, particularly in areas of the state less impacted by the virus, saying the governor's actions have needlessly harmed many businesses that could operate safely.
On Friday, Whitmer extended the stay home order through June 12, while announcing further easing, including gatherings of up to 10 people with social distancing and increased access to retail stores. Theaters, gyms, hair salons and barbershops remain closed, and except for Up North, bars remain closed while restaurants are restricted to carryout and delivery service.
Barrett said he verified that Dowker's post was authentic before he shared it on his Facebook post but decided to remove his own post late Friday night after officials in the governor's office reached out to the office of Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, to say the allegations were false.
"On Saturday morning I was quickly able to reverify the content from the original post," Barrett said. "However, I also learned that the owner of the business had determined that it had turned into a distraction from the work they were desperately trying to make up for from the weeks-long government imposed shutdown, and therefore he did not want to pursue it further.
"Instead, I privately sent word back to the governor’s office that I would never again give them the benefit of the doubt."
Dowker and the company did not respond to calls on Sunday and the Saturday statement from NorthShore Dock can no longer be accessed on Facebook.
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4. Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter.