Moroun family not so bad, says Moroun family

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We at the Hits were especially amused by a piece in the Freep by Nancy Kaffer, in which the columnist was given a personal tour of the Moroun empire by none other than heir apparent Matt Moroun. It all started when Kaffer wrote a March 11 editorial expressing open doubt and outright dismay that the Detroit Economic Development Corp. board voted to sell one of Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s companies 40 acres of land for $2.24 million.

We could give plenty of reasons why Moroun doesn’t deserve the aid of any public-private partnership. Our own Jack Lessenberry points out how “Matty Moroun has managed to successfully buy off the legislature through the form of legalized bribery known as ‘campaign contributions.’” Or the way he reneged on his part of a deal with MDOT over the Gateway Project. Or the way he unilaterally took over part of Riverside Park, staffed it with at least one shotgun-toting security guard, and claimed to be doing so because he was invested with the power of the federal government. Even other rich people don’t like Moroun, as evidenced in a 2004 Forbes piece that likened Moroun to a “troll under the bridge.”

If there’s a billionaire in Detroit who decided to make it his life’s work to become a caricature of Mr. Burns on The Simpsons, it would be hard for him to outshine Moroun on that score.

The March editorial, however, chose to take the Moroun empire to task on its blighted properties, which include Michigan Central Station, which was for decades an example of what you can do with a signature building when you largely leave it open to vandals, scrappers, and the elements.

This prompted Moroun to contact the newspaper, after which Kaffer was given a carefully guided tour, under the watchful eye of former state legislator Shanelle Jackson, formerly a recipient of direct campaign contributions from the Morouns, and now director of public relations for the Ambassador Bridge Co. (Surely, just a coincidence.) We imagine the tour was as painstakingly coordinated as that of a tour of, say, the Soviet Union in the late Brezhnev period, with plenty of lovingly tended vacant lots and carefully sealed buildings standing ready for demolition. Not exactly an independent investigation, in they old days they used to call such demonstrations a “dog and pony show.”

But what amused us most about the piece was how Matt Moroun apparently didn’t make any emotional appeals. We wanted to hear the billionaire’s heir make a bid for our empathy. We longed to hear an attempt to evoke pathos. It must be difficult, to be a scion of Detroit’s least-loved billionaire, in a town that can’t seem to do enough for its super-rich.

Instead, Matt came off as … tin-eared? The kind of guy who says a building preservationists love won’t be demolished because, namely, he doesn’t want it to be? The sort of fellow who totals up how much money his family has spent on property — $462,000 — and downpedals that hefty sum dismissively? A dude who disputes charges that his family isn’t philanthropic by offering zero evidence?

Frankly, we had hoped for a real fireside chat that would pluck our heartstrings. It’s an occasion that calls for Shakespeare. Might we suggest these lines?

If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?

Then again, how many Detroiters would choose Option B?

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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