Commentary
11:15 am
Wed November 2, 2011

A New Detroit River Bridge: The Situation in Delray

For a brief moment, a couple weeks ago, it looked like things might finally be moving on the governor’s plan to build a new Detroit River bridge a plan heavily supported by business.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville seemed to have  enough votes to move the bridge bills out of the economic development committee and on to the full senate.

Then, at the last minute, both Democrats on the committee abstained. Two Republicans voted in favor of the bills. But three other Republicans, all of whom took money from rival Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, voted to kill them. And that was that.

At least, for now, though the governor has vowed to try again. So what happened? The Democrats said they’d been promised the bill would include community benefits for the impoverished Delray area where the bridge would go.

But Mike Kowall, the committee chair and an opponent of any new bridge, said he was blindsided at the last moment, that he knew nothing about this. The Democrats said this wasn’t true, and refused to vote. I was frankly suspicious of what really went on. Yesterday, I stopped for a cup of coffee with one of the Democrats who abstained, State Senator Tupac Hunter, of Detroit. I’ve long respected Hunter.

He works hard and at age thirty-eight, has already been in the legislature nine years. Four years ago, he had the guts to support a candidate for president named Barack Obama, when the Democratic establishment wanted to rig Michigan’s primary for Hillary Clinton.

Hunter is no fan of Matty Moroun, and is in favor of a new bridge. “But the people who have been forgotten are those who live in the area,” he told me, the eight hundred or so mostly black and Hispanic residents of Delray. He said they deserve consideration too.

“It’s easy to look at those people and say, what’s the big deal -- until it is your neighborhood,” he told me. By the way, Delray is not in Hunter’s Senate district. He is term-limited and can’t run again anyway. But he felt for those folks.

One of the pro-bridge Republicans told him he understood, and would want those protections for his constituents too. But he asked, why couldn‘t the Democrats vote to get the bills on the floor and continue the fight there?

But Hunter said, “In this process your vote is the only leverage you have… and am I supposed to trust you when you really don’t need me?” when the bill reaches the full senate floor.

When I asked what he meant by “community benefits,” he said a seat at the table, a guarantee that a residents’ association would get a seat at the table when discussing jobs and environmental concerns. Later, I talked to a minister in Delray, the Rev. Kevin Casillas, who pastors a nearly century-old Baptist church. He strongly supported what Senator Hunter did. Casillas is no fan of Matty Moroun, and said he’d been a terrible corporate neighbor.

He isn’t against a new bridge even though it would displace his church. But he wants some protection for his mainly Hispanic congregation. Neither of these men feels this process is over.

They just want the government and the corporations to remember that regular people have something at stake here too.