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October 26, 1984 - Image 18

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-10-26

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18

Friday, October 26, 1984

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

In 1980, Rep. William Brodhead, at left, Pete Swallow of Lathrup Village, U.S. Secretary
of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt and an adviser, and Rabbis E. B. Freedman and
Feivel Wagner met in Washington.

Could earlier,
united action
within the Jewish
community have
stopped the
freeway?

Continued from preceding page

That same consideration could have
applied here as well."
Then why didn't it? Activist
Zentman flatly lays the blame at the
doorstep of the overall Jewish commu-
nity. "Twenty-five, 30 years ago,
where was the Jewish community
then?" he asks. Zentman bitterly as-
sails the "indifference" of the Jewish
community. Had they raised hell not
in 1980, when the expressway plans
were already literally set in concrete,
but in 1960 . . ." Zentman's voice drops
for a moment as he considers the pos-
sibility he has raised. "Instead, the
(Jewish Welfare) Federation, the
Jewish community, then centered
mainly along Nine Mile Road said,
`Don't worry, that's 20 years away. By
then, we (the Jewish community)
won't even be living here (Oak Park)
any more. We'll all be in West Bloom-
field by then.' That was the general
sentiment. And the fact is that the new
Jewish Community Center is out in'
West Bloomfield. And why else was
the land behind the Ten Mile Road
Jewish Center left empty? They didn't
use the land because they were expect-
ing this all the time. It's always the
same answer: 'So what? So we'll all
move again'."
Both Alvin Kushner of the Jewish
Community Council and Sol Drachler,
former executive vice president of the
Jewish Welfare Federation, differ
with Zentman's account. They main-
tain that mainstream Jewish organ-
izations did not get heavily involved in
the 1-696 controversy and they stress
the commitment of the organizations
to maintaining the viability of Oak
Park.
However, Kushner stressed that
the 1-696 controversy resulted in "a
very divided Jewish community with
two sets of interests." At the time the
expressway was announced, Kushner
lived on the east side and saw the ex-
pressway connection as a blessing.
Many Jewish businessmen saw it the
same way and thus were pitted at odds
with the Orthodox community who
wished to block construction. Because
of these two Jewish concerns" — the
Orthodox and the general community
feeling that the highway would pro-
vide tremendous access," the or-

ganized Jewish community took what
it had historically found to be the
safest route. It remained neutral.
Some observers, like Rabbi Kap-
lan, fear that if the Oak Park Jewish
community repeats the historical pat-
tern of migration, the portion of Oak
Park between Eight Mile Road and
1-696 will eventually be all black, with
the Jews still living only in the section
north of the expressway in an
ethnically-changed neighborhood.
And if that happens," wonders
Schlussel, will we have another De-
xter with thousands of the Jewish el-
derly living abandoned and isolated
from the Jewish community?"
Zentman believes that all the
Jewish community can do now is at-
tempt to "limit the damage. The ex-
pressway is a fait accompli. We're not
going to change it." He is skeptical
about the concessions won by the
Jewish community. As far as the decks
are concerned, Zentman says "seeing
is believing."
If there was a time when the Or-
thodox Coalition could have acted
from a position of strength it would
have to be during the week im-
mediately preceding the November
1980 Presidential election.
The big moving and shaking took
place during the October campaign,"
recalls Rabbi Freedman. "Ultimately,
it boiled down to a question of what
was more important — the Jewish
ethnic vote in Michigan or the effect of
granting a very large, economically-
viable construction project in the state
of Michigan that would have the
unions appreciative. It was obvious to
us that there was going to be a decision
announced right before the election.
We're talking Nov. 3, 1980. The elec-
tion was Nov. 4. It was right down to
the wire.
It looked like Carter was going to
sign the environmental impact state-
ment — which made absolutely no
concessions to us — and make this big
gift to the state of Michigan from
Jimmy Carter. This would be a large
contract for economically-deprived
Michigan — maybe $350-$400 mil-
lion, and Carter wanted to come to
Michigan and announce it. Because of
our friendly sources within the Ad-
ministration, we knew what was going
on. Carter was planning to make a
quick trip into Metropolitan Airport
and announce that he was giving a
federal contract for 1-696 and he
wanted to have all the interested par-
ties lined up there with him.
"Well, we really got on the horn. A
number of us, rabbis, other concerned
individuals, got on the circuit to na-
tional Jewish organizations and ap-
pealed to them to write letters from a
national perspective pointing out that
one of the important Orthodox com-
munities in the country was being sold
down the river for a federal project,
and how it would be very destructive to
us and would be deemed as an insen-
sitivity to Orthodox Jews.
"So now Carter's liaison in the
White House with American Jews was
suddenly hearing from all these na-
tional organizations, saying how they
were concerned about our community
and that it was a national issue.
"Then the White House called us
and asked, Is this really a national
issue or are we getting snowed here?'
We 'were able to convince them that
yes, it was a national concern. And

because of that, Carter did not go
through with his plan to make the an-
nouncement.
"Carter held off at that time al-
though he ultimately did sign the
statement right before he left office —
I think it was on Jan. 16, 1981 (Car-
ter's term ended Jan. 20). But when
Carter signed it, we had the conces-
sions written into the statement be-
cause we had the extra time to work
out the agreements." -
Did Carter sign the statement and
agree to the concessions only because
by this time he clearly had nothing to
lose? Rabbi Freedman doesn't think
so. "Carter wanted to show his
gratitude to the state for supporting
him (although Reagan carried Michi-
gan). As I remember it, the Orthodox
vote was being heavily courted by both
Carter and Reagan. It's possible that
Reagan saw this situation as provid-
ing an opportunity for him to make
inroads , into the traditionally Demo-
cratic Jewish vote. In fact, even with-
out it (exploiting the 1-696 situation),
he did quite well."
Does that mean the Reagan
people were in contact with the Or-
thodox Coalition? Freedman denies it,
but curiously adds,. We didn't deal
with the Reagan people because we
really weren't out to play politics. We
were looking at 1-696 - and what it
would do to the community. We we-
ren't looking for bargains or deals. We
really wanted to stop the project."
Wouldn't contact with the Reagan
team have provided some leverage for
the coalition to use in their dealings
with Carter? Freedman hestitates,
then admits, "There was entree, but
we ignored it. We were dealing with
the project through the Carter Ad-
ministration and rather than swing
deals for the future . . . Well, we looked
at that behavior as being pretty un-
derhanded. We'd lose credibility. The
Carter people would see us as finag-
lers."
Yet hadn't the Orthodox Coalition
been more than willing to cooperate
with an assortment of unlikely politi-
cal bedfellows when they felt it was
advantageous to their cause? At one
point, according to Freedman, The
City of Detroit didn't feel they were
getting what they wanted out of the
deal as far as funds for the downtown
People Mover system and the zoo. The
feds wouldn't budge, so (Mayor) Cole-
man Young saw us as being a good
monkey-wrench to toss into the
works."



Another official who found it
politically expedient to work in tan-
dem with the Orthodox Coalition was
Michigan Governor James J. Blan-
chard, then a U.S. Congressman
whose district included his Pleasant
Ridge home. A spokesman for Blan-
chard told this reporter that Blan-
chard "never really took a strong posi-
tion" for or against 1-696, although he
confirmed that Blanchard worked
with Rabbi Freedman, but only to
bring about "improvements in the de-
sign" of the expressway.
But maybe the real fear of the Or-
thodox Coalition leaders was that
double-crossing the Carter Adminis-
tration (which seemed willing enough
to double-cross them) might expose
their weakness — a lack of support
from any faction of organized Jewry
other than the Orthodox. Certainly,
this lack of financial and moral sup-

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