“I feel like when they talk about Detroit that way, there’s a racial tone to it that’s unacceptable. They’re using our democratic process to bully us to accept their way. That message is coming from an organization, a company, that is supposed to be a good corporate neighbor to the city of Detroit that hosts it.”
– Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit
Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s latest flyer in support of Proposal 6 arrived in Michigan mailboxes Saturday and drew immediate outrage for trying to inflame anti-Detroit sentiments with inaccurate claims.
“More of your money for Detroit?” is the message stamped over a photograph of a dilapidated Detroit street, in a flyer that arrived at homes three days before Tuesday’s vote.
“Don’t let the politicians give away more pork projects and ‘special giveaways’ for the new bridge.”
Proposal 6 aims to stop construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor by mandating a statewide vote on any such project, as well as a vote in the affected municipality. Proponents say a new bridge is crucial to economic development in southeast Michigan.
The flyer — one of many pieces of mailed literature in favor of Proposal 6 arriving at homes almost daily — attacks the idea of “community benefits” for the Delray neighborhood in southwest Detroit where the U.S. side of the proposed New International Trade Crossing public bridge to Canada would be built.
Claims in the flyer that community benefits would be taxpayer funded and would pay for home improvements and repairs were denounced as lies.
“This company is desperate,” said state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, who represents the Delray area and whose comments are cited in the flyer.
Mickey Blashfield, Moroun’s spokesman on Proposal 6, did not directly address concerns raised about the accuracy of the flyer.
“The government bridge study raised the Delray neighborhood’s expectations of community improvements in exchange for project support and then pretends it’s free. One way or another, taxpayers will be on the hook,” he said in a statement to the Free Press. “That’s economics, not any other social statement.”
Community benefits packages to mitigate disruption are common in large-scale public and private construction projects in or near residential neighborhoods.
Still, no such package has been negotiated for the public bridge to Canada, but items discussed for Delray residents include jobs or job training, improvements such as street lighting or green space, and measures to address environmental problems resulting from heavy truck traffic and other congestion.
The bridge agreement signed in June between Michigan and Canada calls for such plans to be negotiated between the private bridge developer, selected through competitive bidding, and community representatives in Delray and Windsor. Officials say the plan would be paid for by the developer, who would recoup the expense from the developer’s share of bridge tolls, not taxpayers.
In the flyer, Moroun says the community benefits would be “taxpayer funded” and suggests they would go toward “home improvement and repair projects.”
Geralyn Lasher, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, said it appears “distortions of reality” by Moroun will continue until Tuesday. “There is no taxpayer money involved in the building of the bridge,” Lasher said.
The bridge, expected to cost $2.1 billion with plazas and connecting roads, is to be privately financed by a contractor who would recoup the investment, plus profit, from bridge tolls. Canada has offered to pick up Michigan’s $550 million share of other related costs, such as the bridge plaza and connecting roads, with that money also to be recouped from tolls. Canada has pledged to cover any shortfalls and hold Michigan harmless if bridge tolls are not sufficient to pay the developer.
Snyder and most Michigan business leaders support the project as a way of clearing a border bottleneck and assuring access for Michigan exporters to their largest market. Moroun opposes the project as unfair government encroachment on his private enterprise. He says he wants to build a new private bridge beside his existing one, but Canadians don’t want a second bridge there because of the congestion it creates through a residential neighborhood in Windsor.
Tlaib said the flyer is a sign of desperation as Moroun tries to win approval of a constitutional amendment that would require a statewide vote on the new public bridge.
“This is terrible,” Tlaib said Saturday. “I feel like when they talk about Detroit that way, there’s a racial tone to it that’s unacceptable. They’re using our democratic process to bully us to accept their way. That message is coming from an organization, a company, that is supposed to be a good corporate neighbor to the city of Detroit that hosts it.”
No community benefits for Delray have been negotiated, Tlaib said.
“We have nothing, right now,” she said. “All we’re asking for is to have a conversation.”
Detroiter Malik Shabazz, who has organized protests supporting Moroun’s bridge and opposing the proposed public bridge, said Saturday he hadn’t seen the flyer “but if it’s anything remotely like you say it is, it’s an outrage and it’s a disgrace. We don’t have any time for race baiting.”
Moroun, whose bridge company has put $33.2 million into the Proposal 6 campaign, had steered clear of the Detroit issue until this weekend, it’s not the first time he has tried to bash the public bridge by depicting it as a government pork project for Detroit.
In June 2011, when a bridge bill was before the Legislature, Moroun hired political consultant Dick Morris to conduct a poll that included a question that began: “Critics of the bridge say this is just a payoff to politicians in Detroit.”
Another question described community benefits for Delray by saying bridge supporters “propose paying 10% of the cost of the bridge to support golf courses (and) swimming pools” in Detroit.
Asked by reporters where he got those details, Morris said the question was fair because similar amenities had been included in community benefits packages elsewhere.
Critics denounced the exercise as a “push poll” designed not to elicit information but to influence public opinion with misinformation disguised as questions.