Editorial: Inexcusable scare tactics have no place in bridge debate

Detroit Free Press


Scare tactics: Bogus eviction notices were taped to homes in the 600 block of Reid in Detroit's Delray neighborhood this week. / WILLIAM ARCHIE/Detroit Free Press

Emotional terrorism is the cowardly refuge of someone on the losing end of an argument.

Thus Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group unable to muster any real facts in opposition to a publicly built bridge across the Detroit River, has resorted to preying on the fears of residents in one of the city’s most distressed areas.

The group crassly posted fake eviction notices on doors all across Delray this week, ostensibly to “startle” residents into seeing that construction for a new bridge would take their homes.

If you think you’ve seen this kind of fear-mongering before, it’s because you have. Roll the calendar back 50 years, and it was bigots and opportunists playing these kinds of games in city neighborhoods, trying to stoke fears that integration was going to ruin people’s neighborhoods. They’d hire black families to pretend they were living in an area, then watch as white families panicked.

Back then, the motive was often profit. Real estate agents and building developers made out like bandits as whites scrambled to sell their properties in advance of the presumed devaluation.

Now, though the circumstances differ, the underlying inspiration is the same. Americans for Prosperity has linked arms with Ambassador Bridge Owner Matty Moroun to preserve the monopoly Moroun enjoys.

There is nothing clever or insightful about fake eviction notices in a city with one of the highest foreclosure rates nationwide. It is flat out emotional manipulation, the kind of crude dirty tricks that have no place in the circle of civil discourse.

And it is sickening that Americans for Prosperity would have the nerve to pull this kind of tactic in Delray, part of the Southwest Detroit community that Moroun has treated as an industrial wasteland. The raggedy properties he owns and refuses to maintain in that neighborhood are the foundation for much of the blight that has made Delray such a mess for years and robbed residents of a decent quality of life. Now his surrogates have the nerve to scare residents about someone “taking” their homes?

Americans for Prosperity and Moroun are desperate because their arguments against the bridge are largely groundless. They disingenuously call it a government bridge, when they know this kind of infrastructure is publicly owned worldwide; the Ambassador Bridge is the exception, not the rule.

They know the new bridge will involve many private interests, from its financing and building to its operation. And they know the bridge will be paid for, like any bridge, with tolls, and that it won’t be financed if tolls aren’t projected to generate enough money.

They know the Canadian government, also eager to get a new crossing built, has offered to contribute Michigan’s share of the up-front money to build the bridge, guaranteeing that Michigan taxpayers will have as little of their money at stake as possible. And no one will be evicted from their homes for a new bridge; by law, land acquisition for these kinds of projects comes with remuneration. Often, in an area like Delray, where values are so depressed, property owners bargain for more in a public development project than they would ever get selling their places on the market.

Moroun knows this, too — and, as a big property owner in the area, stands to benefit. Americans for Prosperity didn’t put that in its little flyers.

There’s one more eerie parallel between racist blockbusting and the scare campaign that Americans for Prosperity has engaged about the bridge. You never really knew who was behind blockbusting, because the interests who were benefitting were too ashamed to let themselves be known.

Similarly, Americans for Prosperity won’t say where they get the money to run ads full of falsehoods or to post frightening fake eviction notices on people’s doors. That says nearly everything about their fitness to be a constructive part of the dialogue on this issue.