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Belle Isle fantasy

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The effort by the state to take over Belle Isle is not likely to fade away. Instead, local corporate media (LCM) is using this situation to redouble its efforts to denigrate and distort the opposition to state-foundation-corporate driven development.

After the City Council refused to consider the offer by the state to lease the island, Gov. Rick Snyder said he was pulling the deal off the table. The central question pushed in media was, “How could a cash-strapped city justify turning down the generous state offer of $6 million to run the park?”

This question was followed with a flurry of outrage by the LCM directed at the Council and at the citizens who spoke out against the proposal. Among the least substantive and most insulting were the tweets turned into an article by Detroit Free Press editor Stephen Henderson and writer Nancy Kaffer. Under the title “The most outrageous things said about the Belle Isle deal during public comments,” Henderson could not contain his disdain for people. He clearly has no sense of the deep oppositional currents in the city. Kaffer posted, “THIS is why rational people need to come to council meetings.” The implication is that opposition must be “irrational.”

Later the duo described the opposition as “paranoid outbursts” and “wild theories about the state wanting to snatch the island from Detroiters.” John Carlisle provided a fashion commentary titled, “City Council’s regular speakers put on a good show.” Rather than listing arguments, he chose to comment on speakers’ dress. He labeled folks “notorious regulars, activists and eccentrics” seeking to “draw attention,” and “air their pet complaints” so that “many discussions are driven off the rails by wild statements.”

Chief among the “wild statements” is the conviction “that the city of Detroit is under assault by outsiders who want to seize its jewels and disenfranchise its residents.” To many of us, this is not wild but an accurate summation of where we are.

However, the attack on citizens becomes repeated in national news coverage. Mark Binnelli wrote in New York Times that, “the council, under pressure from a vocal minority suspicious of ‘outsiders’ looting Detroit’s few remaining assets, postponed a long-planned vote on the Belle Isle proposal.”

At least Binnelli had the sense to follow this with the recognition that there is good reason to fear schemes for development. He notes, “Belle Isle was recently at the center of a different moneymaking scheme. A group of wealthy libertarians suggested that private investors buy the island from the city for the nice, round, Dr. Evil-ish sum of $1 billion and transform it into an independent, self-governing territory.” This plan, reported seriously in the LCM, sounds suspiciously like a scheme from a group of wealthy outsiders.

But Detroiters don’t need to look at billionaire fantasies to understand that public assets find their way into state control, without any guarantee for continued public benefit. The experiences of Cobo Hall, the Detroit Zoo and our public schools support the notion that outsiders want to run the city for their own benefit.

It is not unfounded paranoia to say we are disenfranchised. We are. We are living with a consent agreement no one wanted; the threat of an emergency manager, an idea rejected by the voters; with the firing of a Corporation Counsel whose stand was supported during the last election; and with a school board attacked by the attorney general for having the audacity to take up its elected role.

And if that dose of reality isn’t enough, we have the example of Benton Harbor. There, one of the first acts of Emergency Manager Joe Harris was to give part of the city park to developers, for a private golf course.

Local corporate media should try reporting what people say and why they say it. Perhaps then they would understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

Contact Shea Howell at

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