An open letter to Warren Buffett, from the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge

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Ste. Anne Church. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Ste. Anne Church.

Dear Mr. Buffett,

This letter is long overdue. I know this is out of the blue, but our Detroit neighborhood wishes you had won the bid for the Ambassador Bridge all those years ago. I know, I know, it’s too late. But it hasn’t stopped some of our older residents in the community from fantasizing, “What if Warren Buffett owned the bridge?”

Southwest Detroit has been through hell (excuse my directness) with Matty Moroun, his Bridge Company, and all his fancy-named subsidiaries. From blighted homes that my boys have to walk by to allowing his trucks to rumble down our residential streets, passing our parks, schools, and homes — we have had it.

I actually met with him once. I told him, “I get it, Mr. Moroun. You are protecting your business interests, but can you please apply for the permits first?” Get this, Warren. He responded with, “I don’t come and tell you what to do in your backyard.”

Of course, I didn’t blink. (I had some strong elders in my family who taught me never to get bullied.) My response was, “But Mr. Moroun, it is my backyard.”

You don’t know me. (In short, I am a funny, passionate, justice-seeking mama in Detroit). We should grab a milk or tea one day. (You can have a beer, but I don’t drink.)

What I have to ask is important and it’s on behalf of thousands of families who live in the shadow of the Bridge — families that often don’t have a voice and families that are struggling to be heard over the lobbying and PR efforts of Matty Moroun. You can help us and make a point to the world that not all billionaires are like Matty Moroun. They don’t close city streets illegally, defy court orders, and end up in jail for a day — nor do they pay residents in cash envelopes from cars parked in nearby gas stations or attempt to fund “other groups” to testify in support of their proposals. Well, you get the point. He is kinda different. (Understatement!)

Moroun will never understand that our community is not his playground. We are living and breathing next to his decaying Ambassador Bridge (yeah, concrete actually falls down from it) and the thousands of trucks that pass over it everyday. All we want is respect for our community and responsibility for not harming our quality of life at the expense of making money.

The Ambassador Bridge is part of the neighborhood. Moroun treats our neighborhood as a dumping ground for old toll booths and all kinds of construction material. He treats it as a dumping ground for old, decaying properties that he has purchased for speculation. The exterior of Moroun’s operation is ugly — cheap fencing with weather-torn black tarp flapping in the wind that in no way should pass muster with Homeland Security.

But I digress. Here is the real reason I am writing — the ask. Matty Moroun somehow manipulated his way to leaders at the Archdiocese of Detroit to get more of their land and support for more city street closures. This means that his trucks will get closer to our homes. They already line up behind one of our densest residential streets, St. Anne Street. Matty already got tons of street closures and a major expansion to his bridge plaza just a few years ago.

He manipulated them with trinkets. Offered them a donation of $400,000 to pay off the debt of our beautiful historic Ste. Anne Church. It wasn’t given out out of love. You and I know that. They deserve it without giving up anything. They have to endure all the noise and pollution. Moroun doesn’t live in our neighborhood, nor do we ever see him.

Now Ste. Anne Church needs a new roof. This historic church is a magnificent jewel (in fact it is the second oldest Catholic charter in the U.S. after St. Augustine, Florida), and it is an anchor in our Hubbard-Richard neighborhood. Our community is proud of its place in history and its significance in our lives as a place to gather and see milestones such like weddings and cultural gatherings celebrated there. But I am afraid desperation to preserve will drive them to Matty’s trap, where they will give up more for help — help that should come with no motive, but to be a better neighbor.

The Morouns and their Bridge Company keep saying they want to change their image. Yep, Mr. Buffett, he has his son skipping around town, saying they have “turned a new leaf.” But, by closing streets and cutting off our neighborhood, all we see is the same old strategy.

So yeah, we really wish you had become our neighbor. We can always upset Matty by bringing your name up.

The church needs help. Their roof needs complete repair. It will cost them $2.5 million to replace and the church shouldn’t have to marry the “troll under the bridge” (Forbes magazine’s words, not mine — what kind of corporation do you need to be to be labeled a “troll” by one of the nation’s business magazines?) to get much deserved help.

So what do you say Mr. Buffett — can we pretend you are the owner of the Ambassador Bridge for a day and ask you to help Ste. Anne’s Church?

Respectfully,
Rashida Tlaib, mom of two boys (they get their humor from me), proud Detroiter, Muslima, and a recovering Michigan State Representative (2009-2014)

Rashida Tlaib is the Community Partnerships and Development Director at the Sugar Law Center in Detroit. She formerly served as a Michigan state representative.



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