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Rick Wagoner

Rick WagonerGeneral Motors Chief Rick Wagoner Said to Step Down.

General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner will step down after more than eight years running the largest U.S. automaker, people familiar with the situation said.

The Obama administration asked Wagoner, 56, to leave the company and he agreed, an administration official said. Wagoner said March 19 that he didn’t plan to resign.

The departure of Wagoner comes as President Barack Obama prepares an address tomorrow morning on his plans for the future of the U.S. auto industry. GM is surviving on $13.4 billion in U.S. loans and is asking for as much as $16.6 billion in additional aid to survive. Wagoner was asked to step down as part of the company’s restructuring, the official said.

The longtime GM chief, who has been lampooned on Saturday Night Live and vilified for his central role in the auto- industry collapse, said this month that the hadn’t been asked by the government or his own board to resign and his plan was to finish the restructuring.

“I do it because it’s important and I feel like I have a responsibility to do it,” Wagoner said in a March 19 interview. “I plan to stay here until we get things well in shape and on track and beyond that, we’ll see.”

GM Plans

GM has said it will shed 47,000 jobs globally in 2009 and plans to close five assembly plants. Executives said the Detroit-based automaker will focus on four U.S. brands down from eight and eliminate thousands of dealers. The stock tumbled 87 percent last year.

GM has rallied 66 percent since March 12, when Chief Financial Officer Ray Young said it wouldn’t need a $2 billion payment by the end of this month to survive as originally forecast. The biggest U.S. automaker is benefiting from increased cost cutting, Young said.

Wagoner has run GM since June 2000, presiding over $82 billion in losses beginning since the end of 2004, the last profitable year. Wagoner weathered the losses and activist investor Kirk Kerkorian’s 2006 push for an alliance with Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co.

Long Career

Wagoner has repeatedly argued he knows the company better than most who could take his job. He joined GM in 1977, as U.S. automakers were fending off Japanese competitors who recognized the need a decade earlier to build fuel-efficient vehicles.

As CEO, the former Duke University freshman basketball player and Harvard University MBA early on bet against gasoline- electric hybrid vehicles, focusing research on hydrogen technology. GM offered its first full-scale hybrids in 2007, a decade after Toyota introduced the Prius.

Wagoner kept GM focused on trucks and sport-utility vehicles, only to press for development of the Volt plug-in electric car when gasoline prices soared.

He used the purchase of South Korea’s Daewoo Motor Co. to expand GM’s overseas sales 51 percent to 5.5 million cars and trucks by 2007. He wrung concessions from labor unions in 2007, including cutting wages in half for new hires and offloading retiree health care to a union-run trust by 2010.

Others Ousted

The federal government has previously requested the replacement of chief executive officers at American International Group Inc., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when they received aid.

Then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson replaced Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd and Freddie Mac’s Richard Syron when he put the two mortgage-finance companies into government conservatorship in September. AIG chief Robert Willumstad left after the Fed took control the same month.

In 1984, federal regulators replaced the board chairman and CEO of Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Co. after taking an 80 percent ownership stake.

The chairman of Lockheed Aircraft Corp., now part of Lockheed Martin Corp., kept his job when the defense contractor won $250 million in federal loan guarantees in 1971, even after offering to resign.

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Lou Saban

Lou SabanLongtime football coach Lou Saban dies.

Lou Saban, the longtime college and pro football coach who led the Buffalo Bills to a pair of AFL championships, died early Sunday morning at the age of 87.

Saban coached professional football for 16 years, and most notably led Buffalo to back-to-back AFL titles in 1964-65. He also coached the Boston -- now New England -- Patriots for their first two seasons, in 1960-61 before moving on to Buffalo from 1962-65.

He spent five seasons with Denver (1967-71), overseeing the team through the AFL-NFL merger, and returned to the Bills from 1972-76. Saban's pro teams went 95-99-7.

Away from football, Saban was also president of the New York Yankees from 1981-82.

"He has been my friend and mentor for over 50 years, and one of the people who helped shape my life," Yankees owner and chairperson George M. Steinbrenner said in a statement. "Lou was tough and disciplined, and he earned all the respect and recognition that came his way. He spent a lifetime leading, teaching and inspiring, and took great satisfaction in making the lives around him better. This is a tremendous loss to me personally, and I extend my deepest condolences to his wife, Joyce, and the entire Saban family."

Saban's coaching career also included stints at numerous colleges, Northwestern, Western Illinois, Maryland, Miami, Army and Central Florida.

Saban played college football at Indiana and was with the Cleveland Browns from 1946-49 before moving onto coaching.

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Carthage NC Shooting

Carthage NC Shooting
NC nursing home shooting kills at least 6.

A gunman opened fire at a North Carolina nursing home Sunday morning, killing at least six people and wounding several others, police said.

The gunman was also injured before he was apprehended by police after the 10 a.m. shooting at Pinelake Health and Rehab in the town of Carthage, Police Chief Chris McKenzie told several television stations. A police officer was also hurt.

"It's a horrible event in any size town, particularly, though, when you deal with a small town such as Carthage," McKenzie said. "It's hard. This is my home, my small town. I was born and raised here so, yeah, I take it to heart a little bit. All you can do is move forward."

Gretchen Kelly, spokeswoman at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in nearby Pinehurst, said six people were brought to the hospital from the nursing home. Kelly said two of the injured died at the hospital, but it wasn't clear if those two were among the six initially reported dead by police.

Kelly said two other patients had been discharged, while two were still being treated. She wouldn't release further details on the injuries or conditions of those hospitalized.

McKenzie said the gunman wasn't a patient at the nursing home, located about 60 miles southwest of Raleigh, but didn't offer any further details on what the gunman's motive might have been.

Late Sunday afternoon, authorities appeared to be conducting a search of the nursing home's parking lot, which they had blocked off with yellow police tape. Among the items they found was a camouflaged-colored rifle or shotgun, which was leaning against the side of a Jeep Cherokee.

The road leading to the home was filled with parked cars, both of police and relatives of those living at Pinelake. Howard McMillian, of Lakeview, said he raced to the scene as soon as he heard about the shooting. His 56-year-old sister lives at the nursing home, and McMillian said his brother had gotten a call from officials saying she was unharmed.

"I know she's real nervous," McMillian said. "I just want to make sure she's OK."

A nursing home Web site said the facility that opened in 1993 has 110 beds, including 20 for those with Alzheimer's disease.

Calls to the nursing home by The Associated Press rang unanswered Sunday, and McKenzie and several state law enforcement agencies didn't immediately return messages or declined to comment. Police planned a news conference for later Sunday afternoon.

Carthage is a small town of roughly 1,800 people in the North Carolina Sandhills, an area popular among retirees and home to several noted golf courses, including the famed Pinehurst resort and its No. 2 course that regularly hosts the U.S. Open.

Pinelake Health and Rehab was last inspected in May, and the review resulted in an overall five-star — or "much above average" — rating from federal Medicaid officials.

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Citi Field

Citi Field

Play ball! Citi Field grand opening is here.
The Mets don't beat the Yankees too often.

Interleague play? Yankees, 39-27. 2000 World Series? Yankees in five.

The Yankees have been around a lot longer, have more World Series trophies, more Hall of Famers. More history.

The Mets will beat the Yankees today, however. To the punch.

The Mets will be the first to open their new baseball stadium when the $800-million Citi Field opens its doors for a 1:10 p.m. game between the St. John's and Georgetown baseball teams.

Fans scarfed up 30,000 tickets in 45 minutes when they went on sale March 2. Twelve thousand more were distributed through schools and community groups, meaning all 42,000 seats could be filled.

But chances are fans won't stay in those seats for long. Most probably will spend time walking around the new ballpark, checking out the concourses, the food stations, the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the quirky outfield configuration, the 50-feet-high by 70-feet-wide centerfield scoreboard, the nine merchandise shops, the 646 restrooms.

Well, maybe just one or two of the 646 restrooms. But you get the point. For fans, Citi Field will be a feast for the senses.

For the St. John's and Georgetown players, it will mark a chance to play in a brand-spanking-new major-league ballpark, and to make history doing so. The NCAA Division I single-game attendance record for baseball is 40,106 for a game between San Diego State and Houston at San Diego's Petco Park in 2004.

For Citi Field workers, the game will be a chance to road-test the new digs. Will everything be ready? No, according to Mets executive vice president of business operations David Howard. But most everything will be, and the Mets will get two other chances to take the new ballpark out for a spin when the Mets host the Red Sox in a pair of exhibition games Friday and Saturday.

"The Delta Sky 360 Club ," Howard said. "That's the premium club right behind home plate. It's operating in conjunction with Danny Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group. They made very extensive modifications, and that delayed the finish. They'll be close to finished on Sunday, but we're not planning on opening that space. The Sterling Suites, right next to that, won't be open, either. And the Fan Fest area in centerfield, the play space for kids, that probably will not be open for Sunday. But both will be open for the Red Sox games."

Howard said the biggest logistical challenge for today and the early part of Citi Field's life will be trying to help fans figure out where everything is. By the time it closed, Mets fans had had more than 40 years to get used to Shea Stadium, such as it was. They will know they are not at Shea anymore the minute they walk into Citi Field. They also won't know their way around their new baseball home.

"For the first part of the season, our fan base has to learn the building," Howard said. "It's very different from Shea Stadium. We've given extensive training to our game-day staff to help them navigate this beautiful building. It's a challenge, but I'm sure we can meet it. It lays out pretty well, and it's pretty self-descriptive. Shea was a little harder because it was circular. This ballpark contours to the playing field."

Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on your point of view - the Citi Field staff might get to test out the drainage system and the tarp that covers the infield. The forecast for today calls for a 30-percent chance of showers.

Rain, however, probably would not ruin the spirit of this dry run. Even if it pours, the first totally new New York City baseball stadium to open since Shea debuted in 1964 will begin its existence today. That's a full five days before new Yankee Stadium opens Friday with a 7 p.m. exhibition game against the Cubs.

Just in case, though, the Mets' exhibition game against Boston on Friday is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. So even in the event of a rainout today, the Mets will win this race to be first against their crosstown rivals.

Hey, it's a start.

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Monica Conyers

Monica ConyersConyers sparks reaction on race, Cobo.

"Making peace, I have found, is much harder than making war."

- Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein

And so it appears based on reaction to my column last week about various conflicts smoldering across our region: Democrats vs. Republicans, Wayne County vs. Oakland County, haves vs. have-nots and more.

I talked to Michigan Chronicle Publisher Sam Logan, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson about a host of issues.

But the one who grabbed the lion's share of attention was Detroit City Council President Monica Conyers.

I wrote last week about a taping of "Michigan Matters" (which aired last Sunday on WWJ-TV) in which Conyers commented on Cobo Center and touched on race.

In discussing whether race had entered into the debate over Cobo and putting a regional authority in charge, I asked whether she thought she was a racist. She said: "Black people cannot be racist."

E-mails and voice-mails came pouring in disagreeing with that idea.

"She said in your column in Sunday's Free Press 'I don't think African Americans can be racist.' This doesn't mean they can't be prejudiced," wrote Christine Codish.

Segments from Conyers' interview also aired on radio shows, including the "Jay and Bill Show" (Jay Towers and Bill McAllister) on the Ticket, 97.1 FM. Callers flooded the station's lines.

Indeed, a station spokesman told me Conyers is a sparkplug for discussion.

She also argued that Cobo could be renovated with federal stimulus dollars -- an idea that attorneys for Granholm, Patterson and Ficano do not seem to agree on.

E-mailers wondered about the dollars and cents of it all.

"Is there any realistic chance of stimulus money being used for Cobo Hall?" asked Charles Richards. "If that was done, then why not let the metro hotel and motel tax expire when scheduled and let Detroit be responsible for, and pay for, Cobo Hall entirely?"

If you are interested in hearing more on Cobo, race relations and other regional topics, don't miss the second Michigan Chronicle "Pancakes and Politics "event April 23 at the Detroit Athletic Club. Tickets are available; call 313-963-8100, ext. 2254.

Foreclosure advice

As the home foreclosure crisis continues, leaders are stepping up to offer counsel.

Ted Wahby, treasurer in Macomb County since 1995, has met with thousands of people the past few years in a bid to help them work through the process of saving their home.

Wahby, a former executive at Comerica, talked about the human toll of the situation during a taping of "Michigan Matters," which airs at 11 a.m. today on WWJ-TV.

In Oakland County, there were 9,625 sheriff's sales in 2008, up from 8,019 in 2007. In just the first two months of 2009, there were 1,087 sheriff's sales, said Kathy Williams, Housing Counseling and Homeless Services, which is part of Oakland County's Community and Home Improvement Division.

"We have partnered with other agencies to host events that bring lenders, housing counselors and consumers together to resolve mortgage delinquencies," Williams said.

Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press personal finance columnist, also talked about the crisis and warned financially struggling owners to beware of scam artists trying to cash in on their woes.

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