Daily Show on Michigan Bridge Controversy

Daily Show on Michigan Bridge Controversy January 12, 2013

The Daily Show did a segment on the controversy over a proposed bridge between Detroit and Canada, a story that intersected with my life and previous work with the Michigan Messenger in several ways. First, watch the video and then I’ll fill in the details.

Okay, a little background. As the video says, Matty Maroun owns the Ambassador Bridge. And he’s been trying to get approval to build a second span of that bridge to carry more traffic. But the government of Canada has offered to pay instead for a publicly-owned bridge, which Maroun wants to stop because, obviously, it would compete with his current bridge and stop his plan to build another one (from which he earns a great deal of money, of course). Gov. Rick Snyder and the legislature, somewhat surprisingly, support the public bridge.

Last year, Maroun launched a campaign to pass a referendum on Nov. 6 to require a public vote before this new public bridge could be built. The message of that campaign was “Let the people decide.” And I was actually rather surprised that it failed by a pretty wide margin, 59-41. Somehow in that video the Daily Show says that this vote means Detroiters don’t want a public bridge, which makes no sense at all. The referendum was in opposition to the bridge, so the no vote on it was a vote in support of the bridge.

When I was editor of the Michigan Messenger, we never really touched this story except to report very basic facts, like reporting on actions taken by the legislature, because I had a bit of a conflict of interest. One of my oldest friends works for Matty Maroun. In fact, as a vice president of Maroun’s company and his head of governmental relations, he ran the campaign for the referendum and against the public bridge. I disagree with him entirely on this issue, but we remain good friends and it put me in a somewhat awkward position. So we stayed away from the story for the most part.

The other thing in the video that jumps out is that Malik Shabazz is in it. Shabazz is the leader of the New Black Panther Nation/New Marcus Garvey Movement (not to be confused with the New Black Panther Party, which is run by Malik Zulu Shabazz) in Detroit. Shabazz is a black separatist and during the 2010 campaign for governor, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s campaign put out a list of people who had endorsed him and it included Shabazz. We were working on a story about that when all hell broke loose with the Bernero folks over it.

Perhaps I should explain that Virg Bernero, while I like some of his politics, is something of an asshole and he tends to hire assholes as well. His administration spokesperson and his campaign spokesperson, both of whom I had to deal with many times as editor of the Messenger, were two of the most difficult people to handle that I have ever encountered. The campaign spokesperson, Jermaine Dickens, pretty much lost his mind when he found out we were going to do a story about them publicly promoting the endorsement of a black separatist minister.

I spent a good two hours in a very tense conversation with Dickens while we were working on the story, with him literally yelling at me about it (and me yelling back at times). He threw out one bad argument after another, none of which were remotely convincing as to why we shouldn’t publish the story, and then he actually gave Shabazz my phone number (without permission) and Shabazz called me. He threw out more bad arguments about it. The fact is that a candidate for governor announcing the endorsement of a black separatist is a legitimate story, just like accepting the support of a white separatist would be a legitimate story. And we ran with it (we also published a statement from Shabazz, word for word, along with it). And after we published the story, and after arguing with me that there’s nothing wrong with the endorsement for hours, they suddenly put out a press release saying that the whole thing was a mistake, that Shabazz did not endorse Bernero at all, he wasn’t endorsing anyone, and that he only ended up on the list because of a miscommunication. And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

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  • slc1

    So the question is, are they now going to build the fucken bridge?

  • Rodney Nelson

    And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

    Thanks, but I’ve already got one in Brooklyn.

  • jba55

    “Somehow in that video the Daily Show says that this vote means Detroiters don’t want a public bridge”

    I think what they meant, and I could be mistaken, is that they were surprised that so many people voted against the free bridge, not that the majority don’t want it.

    It never ceases to… well, not amaze, maybe disappoint me how easily led people are. I mean, seriously, how many times has Canada burned us economically? And why would you trust someone with such a vested monetary interest? Except of course, Canada is foreign, sometimes speak French and some of them might even be brown.

  • I hope that someone at the messenger was covering this travesty, and not holding back because of personal relationships.

  • acroyear

    What was the actual text of the referendum? Often in these kinds of votes, the wording is intentionally written in a confusing manner to imply the opposite of what it seems to say on the surface.

    The VA vote on eminent domain compensation is a key example – what on the surface seemed to make sense (the owner should be compensated for the value of what the property would be after it was turned over and development finished) actually leads to a situation where the lawsuits for compensation will actually increase and be more costly to all parties including the state (as the state has to pay up the difference, even if they then don’t get that back in tax gains from the people who eventually got the property).

    Some of the anti-gay marriage referenda were also like this, including the Ohio one that was cloned in VA, where the implications of the second sentence (the one that barred the state from recognizing personal contracts if they implied a right that marriage would give the couple) were so obtusely written that many moderates didn’t recognize what it was saying. Even as VA kicked out George Allen for the first (of two) times, they voted for this amendment which was written to draw Allen supporters in, all because they didn’t understand what it was really saying.

  • loren

    “Somehow in that video the Daily Show says that this vote means Detroiters don’t want a public bridge, which makes no sense at all. The referendum was in opposition to the bridge, so the no vote on it was a vote in support of the bridge.”

    I think you heard that wrong. When they show the results of the vote (with 2.7 million voting “No” and 1.8 million voting “Yes”), Madrigal’s voiceover says:

    “When push came to shove, 59% of the community decided *not* to be completely stupid, and shot down Prop 6. Which does mean 1.8 million Detroiters still didn’t want a FREE FRIGGIN BRIDGE!”

    He’s explicitly criticizing the people who voted “Yes” on the referendum.

  • Doug Little
  • Jordan Genso

    I actually gave a presentation in Livingston County regarding proposal 6 prior to the election, to try and clarify for the voters what the proposal was about.

    First off, it wasn’t about “letting the people decide”, because the proposal worked in only one direction. If the proposal passed, and people were in favor of a public bridge, the proposal didn’t give them a way around the legislature to get it built. It would still fall on Lansing to build the bridge. What the proposal would do though is give the people the power to stop the bridge from being built. Before any bridge* could be built, it would require two public votes, one at the state level, and one at the local level. That would give the Maroun family two more opportunities to throw money at a campaign designed to obstruct a new bridge.

    What I pointed out to people though is that the people funding Proposal 6 admitted that we need a second bridge. But they were putting out ads saying we don’t need one, because they don’t want that second bridge to be public. But with an international bridge, there’s two countries involved, and Canada had made it clear they wouldn’t allow the Marouns to build a second bridge. So everyone agrees we need a second bridge; Canada won’t allow the Marouns to build it; the bridge being built by a cooperative effort between Michigan/Ontario is the most logical solution.

    I could go into the financial details that Canada has offered that makes the bridge even more obviously correct for Michigan to support, but that’s irrelevant for the larger point, which is that the Marouns tried their best to misinform the public, and while it worked on some, luckily a majority of the voters did the right thing.

    *As a rather funny side note. The text of the proposal defined “new international bridge” as “any bridge not built prior to…”, and so if the proposal had passed, there would have been an obvious court fight. By using the definition they stated, no bridge of any sort (a small bridge crossing the Kalamazoo River, a highway overpass in the middle of the state, etc) could be built without a statewide vote of the people.

  • Jordan –

    I always laughed at those commercials saying we don’t need a second bridge. I thought, “Wait a minute, you guys want to build your own bridge that we allegedly don’t need!” The whole campaign was really dishonest.

  • acroyear

    I would vote no on that measure, as it is presented in that text. Yes, it is more ‘democratic’, but this is a damned republic. I vote for and send representatives to a state legislature and to the local county/municipal boards to handle this kind of crap for me. If I have to, every year, turn around and vote to veto what they do, then what is the point of electing a legislature or a governor in the first place?

    It is their job to make these decisions, even if they can sometimes be corrupt in doing so.

  • This is crazy. Another bridge? Do you really want more Canadians sneaking, out in the open, over the border, stealing your ice and snow-related jobs (Zamboni-ing you out of house and home!) and continuing to infect the USA with practically-dressed wave after wave of polite no-gun violence and stories about Winnipeg?

  • Wes

    How dare those filthy beaver-humping moose jockeys offer us a free bridge? Hey, Snow Mexicans! Take your bridge and shove it up your syrup-coated ice-hole! This is America! We don’t want free bridges! We want to be vehemently opposed to things we never attempted to understand!

  • shouldbeworking

    The free bridge was an attempt by Canadian shoppers to cross the border and buy lots of cheap American goods, thereby avoiding our sales tax, boosting your economy and infecting your voters with ideas about health care, gun control and military spending. Good thing your voters saw through the evil plan.

  • John Hinkle


    Good thing I wasn’t drinking anything!

  • I disagree with him entirely on this issue, but we remain good friends and it put me in a somewhat awkward position. So we stayed away from the story for the most part.

    A lot of that in reporting these days it seems.

  • docrick11

    Went to college with Virg. Not too surprised with this.

    Asshole then, too.

    As an aside, Mike Rogers was an asshole at the same college, same timeframe.

    I’m sure they’d both say the same of me, though.