Even An Amateur TV Critic’s Billionaire Husband Couldn’t Explain To The Detroit Regional Chamber Of CommerceHow It Would Benefit Detroit

Steve Dibert, MFI-Miami

Ayn Rand having a cigarette while collecting Medicare for lung cancer
Ayn Rand having a cigarette while collecting Medicare for lung cancer

About a week and half ago, several journalists and I from metro Detroit blogged about how a group of crazy billionaires from the Detroit suburbs proposed buying an island park located on the Detroit River from the City of Detroit and turning it into an Americanized version of the British tax havens of Jersey or the Isle of Mann.  Supporters claim it will be governed by the philosophies of Ayn Rand, the borderline alcoholic chain smoking author who preached the benefits of an anarcho-capitalist free market system while collecting public assistance for her lung cancer.

The Belle Isle Commonwealth was the brainchild of Rodney Lockwood, an Ayn Rand enthusiast and a developer of senior housing who openly brags about accepting government subsidies and using low interest rate government loans for his developments. Lockwood claims that the the city-state “would foster billions of dollars in spin-off investment for Detroit, creating an enclave that would be the envy of the world.”

Today was do or die for supporters to win support from the influential Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce because if their idea was going to fly it was going to need the support and influence of the Chamber to make it happen.   The presentation by Rodney Lockwood who was the brains behind the idea and and former Chrysler executive Hal Sperlich was given to 50 invited guests and two or three hand selected reporters at the posh Detroit Athletic Club.

Supporters of this utopia for tax cheats and money launderers did pick up a booster with the support of former Chairman of the urban revitalization think tank, New Detroit and deep pocketed GOP donor, John Rakolta. Rakolta, is the brother-in-law of spastic GOP activist, Ronna Romney (Mitt’s ex-sister-in-law).  Rakolta’s wife Terry Rakolta rose to fifteen minutes of fame in the late 1980’s when she ran a one-woman boycott of any advertiser who advertised on the Fox TV show, Married…With Children.  The boycott which got Rakolta a lot of media attention thanks in part to her GOP connections only made the show more popular and kept it on the air for another 13 years.

Sperlich, who rode along with Lee Iacocca  to Washington, D.C. on September 7, 1979 with hat in hand to beg the Carter Administration and the U.S. Congress for an unprecedented government bailout of $1.5 billion ($4,756,632,231 in today’s dollars), called the future residents of the future city-state, “freedom advocates” and tried to get people fired up by saying,

“Belle Isle would be the most competitive nation in the world – a magnet for capital…C’mon patriots… if not this, what? Here’s a crazy-ass idea from Mr. Lockwood that I think would work.”

Rakolta sensing that Sperlich was failing miserably at keeping the audience members engaged jumped in by saying that Lockwood’s vision could produce $20 billion in new investment and create 200,000 jobs in the city in 10 years but when pressed about his math and projections, Rakolta admitted he was only guessing and responded by saying,

“This is what it means to be competitive. Detroit would either grow fast like this or we’ll have to go through the abyss – bankruptcy.”

Sperlich also hinted that if the City of Detroit does file Chapter 9 bankruptcy, supporters may go try to purchase the island through the bankruptcy trustee as a way for Detroit to pay off it’s debts,

“If a bankruptcy does occur, I would think a non-strategic asset like Belle Isle would be in play.  Any judge who went through high school would have to take a look at it.”

The presentation did little to convince Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, who responded with skepticism by saying, “Having rich neighbors doesn’t make you rich,” and used the the posh Detroit suburbs of the Grosse Pointes that border the City of Detroit as an example.

The consensus of the audience members was that the way to fix Detroit’s problems was not by carving it up like roast but to fix the city’s ills.  It also didn’t help scheduling a presentation that would alienate and divide people on a day honoring a civil rights leader and as the first African-American President was being sworn in for his second term as President of the United States.

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