By Mark Tucker
Manuel “Matty” Moroun is the local billionaire we love to hate. He’s an easy target. Unlike Gilbert and the Ilitches, poor unpopular Matty doesn’t own a sexy sports team to distract the masses from his selfish ways. Local media often malign Matty for a low likeability score in relation to his fellow hoarders, and play on his physical features with an “excellent” resemblance to the Simpsons’ Mr. Burns in their parodies of him. Matty is best known for monopolizing our border crossing with Canada vis-à-vis the Ambassador bridge, and for owning Detroit’s ruin porn crown jewel, a.k.a. the derelict Michigan Central train station. Matty is so unpopular, a federal judge recently threw the reclusive octogenarian in jail for a night. Arriving an hour late and smug probably didn’t help his case that day. But who is this “Matty” Moroun character, anyways?
Detroit’s own Mr. Burns was born in 1927 of Lebanese descent. Raised on Detroit’s east side, he was often working in the two gas stations his father owned while attending U of D Jesuit High School, graduating in 1945. Matty continued his education at the University of Notre Dame, graduating in 1949 with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry. He wanted to be a doctor. But, after he was denied admission to medical school, Matty became more involved in his father’s trucking business in the 1950s, taking full control in the 70s. During this time Matty married his wife Nora, when he was 42. They have two children and call Grosse Pointe Shores home. Him and his son Matthew own CenTra, Inc., ranked by Forbes as one of the largest 500 private companies in America, headquartered in an unmarked building in Warren. With a tidy $1.7 Billion, Matty finds himself on the Forbes’ list of wealthiest 400 Americans.
The Ambassador bridge is one of the few privately owned bridges spanning the US and Canada, and accounts for a full quarter of all trade between our two countries. Maroun purchased it 35 years ago, bringing in $60 million annually in tolls to the Moroun family empire. A new government controlled span has been proposed downriver of the Ambassador. Moroun wants to build a second bridge right next to his to maintain and increase his profits. Voices critical of the ability of a private individual to monopolize such a vital infrastructure artery grew louder after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, adding security concerns to the belief that an international bridge between two countries should be owned by the government. A competing bridge planned for downriver has been in the works for years. In the 2009 -10 election cycle, the Moroun family pumped $1.5 million into local politicians hoping to defeat construction approval of a competing bridge. Matty spent another $33 million in 2012 trying to pass a statewide proposal blocking construction of any new, public border crossing without a popular vote. Harder to tally are the hundreds of properties strategically purchased through a maze of companies on both sides of the border to hedge their real estate bets and manipulate bridge decisions, letting many of the buildings seriously deteriorate and blight entire neighborhoods in the process.
In a rare interview ol’ Matty patriotically swooned “I will do the best thing for my country and I’ve done it all my life.” Fine bit of propaganda from an old border baron who may be worrying about his legacy with one foot in the grave. Truth is he has skillfully used his wealth and the court system to obstruct the economic well being of millions of people and an entire region for personal gain. You made your money man, let it go – you can’t take it with you.