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The trick's on Detroit

Well, it’s Halloween, and once upon a time the worst that could happen is that kids would rub soap, or occasionally wax, into the windows of your car. Plus the risk that you would get sick from eating too much candy. But we live in a different age, and for Detroit, this is just one more day of horrors in a long series of nightmares.

The city is attempting to file for bankruptcy, and there is a real threat that the courts will make Detroit sell off the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts to pay some of the creditors.

Detroit desperately needs a turnaround, and a lucky break, and unfortunately, seems doomed over and over to embarrassment. The most recent example is the idea that someone would pay millions of dollars for the destroyed and crumbling old Packard auto plant. True, it is a part of Detroit history. My late father-in-law worked there as a young engineer, and helped close it down when Packard dissolved.

But that was in 1958. The plant long ago became an eyesore. Fifteen years ago, it was a popular site for drug-induced “rave” parties. Today, it is a ghastly and unsalvagable ruin.

Yet  everybody got excited last week when a mysterious Texas doctor bid six million dollars for it -- a bid accepted by Wayne County, a place that daily breaks new records for incompetence. The doctor then released a rambling and incoherent statement indicating she intended to turn it into a manufacturing center again.

Well, of course she never came up with the money. Now the county has turned to a man from Chicago who bid two million dollars for it, and admitted yesterday he didn’t have the money. However, he said he would have it today. Evidently we all forgot that the same man bid a million dollars for the plant before, and couldn’t come up with the money. Of course, that was a long time ago, as in, last month. The truth is the plant is worthless, and it will cost millions to tear it down. That’s something that only governments are likely to do.

But apparently, our jumbled vacant property laws make that hard to do, and nobody has the money for a demolition.

So we are waiting for a miracle and a savior. If all that wasn’t bad enough, Detroit police yesterday found the body of a missing Wayne State University law student in a vacant East Side lot near Packard. She had been shot in the head. When the sun went down, to the dismay of the police, there were a brief rash of so-called Angels‘ Night fires nearby.

True, things are a lot better than they were in the 1980s, when you traditionally had hundreds of fires the night before Halloween, and people from the suburbs treated arson as a spectator sport.

Detroit has some things going for it, and there are reasons to hope for better things, as the city’s ancient motto says. But there is lots of hard work before we fulfill that motto’s prophecy that Detroit will rise again from the ashes. Waiting for mysterious saviors and putting our faith in ridiculous visions won’t do anybody any good.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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