Stephen Henderson: Last-minute Prop 6 ad is hypocritical and low — even for Manuel (Matty) Moroun

Stephen Henderson | Detroit Free Press

November 4, 2012

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun has stooped so low, so many times to defend his monopoly that it’s hard to cook up much outrage when he lunges for yet another nadir.

But his last-minute blitz for Proposal 6 — which would require a statewide vote before any new bridge to Canada is built — was appalling even by Moroun’s standards.

This weekend, his campaign started scapegoating the people of Detroit, people whose neighborhoods he has victimized for years with his abandoned buildings and relentless residential truck traffic, by suggesting they would somehow make out on government dollars related to a publicly built bridge across the Detroit River.

In flyers distributed in well-to-do suburbs, Moroun suggested Prop 6 would be a firewall against “community benefits” and other “giveaways” for southwest Detroit. The ones distributed in Grosse Pointe, for example, sport pictures of destitute Detroit neighborhoods on them and suggest that voters, rather than politicians, should decide whether those areas get more “pork.”

The reference here is to agreements that were debated, but never finalized, when the new Detroit River crossing was brought up in the Legislature. They’re pretty standard with big infrastructure projects, and they’re intended to ensure that the areas around those projects aren’t decimated.

Talk about nerve.

For starters, the flyers repeat the outright lie that Michigan tax dollars will pay for any part of the new bridge. That has been established over and over, despite Moroun’s $33.2-million-and-still-counting campaign to pass Proposal 6.

But even more important, the neighborhoods at issue here are in southwest Detroit, where Moroun himself is Blighter in Chief, owner of Michigan Central Station and dozens of other empty, unused, awful-looking structures that have held the area back economically. People come from all over the world to marvel at the train station, a modern-day ruin whose gap-toothed facade and looming, derelict infrastructure cast a filthy shadow across the area near Moroun’s bridge.

Moroun also indulged a years-long battle with the state over the Gateway Project, a re-routing of the access roads to his bridge designed, in part, to keep truck traffic off residential streets. The fight — which Moroun lost in court — prolonged the trundling of diesel behemoths, many also owned by Moroun, past people’s homes and businesses in southwest Detroit.

In a just world, Moroun would be the one paying out community benefits in those neighborhoods. That $33.2 million he has blown on ridiculous campaign ads? It ought to go into fixing up the train station and every other decrepit piece of property he owns, and to help rebuild the neighborhoods he has dragged down.

But in his twisted campaign to preserve his bridge monopoly, the vulnerable people of southwest Detroit are a soft target he can pummel to spark classist timbre with suburban voters. It’s the tired old bogeyman of “public dollars wasted in Detroit,” trotted out by an oligarch who helps keep Detroit looking like a wasteland.

If shame were in Moroun’s vocabulary, I’d suggest he ought to feel a mountain of it.

As it is, I’m just hopeful that Tuesday’s election shows him that people across this region — whether in the city or the suburbs — reject his ridiculous and self-serving manipulations.

Stephen Henderson is editorial page editor for the Free Press.

Today’s column by Free Press Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson should have said no Michigan tax dollars would be used for a new, publicly built bridge across the Detroit River. Some U.S. tax dollars would be used for related projects. It has been corrected above.