- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

DETROIT | Days after Chrysler’s defiant testament to the resilience of Detroit broke through the Super Bowl bluster and hype to capture the nation’s attention, the two-minute-long commercial has become something of a rallying cry for battered-but-proud residents of the Motor City and its resurgent American auto industry.

The epic spot features shots of rap star and favorite son Eminem behind the wheel of an imposing black Chrysler 200, cruising the gritty streets of Detroit.

The ad’s swagger and steely tone — the tagline tells the rest of America that these cars are “Imported from Detroit” — has especially captured hearts in Michigan.

On YouTube, the commercial has been played about 5 million times since Sunday, and Facebook and other social media platforms have been flooded with comments about how the ad evokes pride and optimism for the city and its future.

“If you watched the news, you’d think, ‘Oh, I have to run from this place.’ But I think a lot of people who haven’t really been here don’t know what’s going on,” said Amy Cronkite, 38, a creative manager at a Detroit-area publisher. She said plenty of urban problems persist, but outsiders often miss the full picture. The sense of a renaissance, she says, is palpable.

“I think people here are worn out on folks coming in and doing these photo essays of the ruins of Detroit,” said Mrs. Cronkite. “The Chrysler commercial touched so many because it focused on people a little bit and how hardworking they are. It said: This is not just a city to be forgotten about.”

Another hometown favorite, Kid Rock (real name Bob Ritchie), tapped into the same sense of civic pride when he admonished a fist-pumping crowd of 60,000 last month at Ford Field to “Never forget your roots.”

There is, added native Linda McIntosh, a collective feeling that says “We won’t” — even as many across the nation, after years of political scandal and fiscal meltdown, have written off the Motor City to the trash heap of inner-city decay.

Ms. McIntosh is the director of marketing for an area shopping center that hosted a holiday storefront featuring all local products — stoking the fires of nostalgia for Detroiters who lined up for Sanders Candy, Better Made Potato Chips and Faygo Soda in glass bottles.

“We shipped packages from one end of the U.S. to the other. People were sending a little bit of Detroit all over America,” she said.

“There is a remarkable sense of place here,” Ms. McIntosh said as she paused to hide her tears. “I think you have to remember that Detroit was one of the original melting pots. People came here from all over the country and world to work for the automotive industry, and there was so much pride in that. That spirit remains in everything still. And despite all of the challenges, I think the resilience of the people here, its unmatched by any city in the country.”

Not everyone found the commercial inspiring, especially conservatives who found the ad’s defiant tone at odds with the taxpayer-funded $130 billion bailout of the city’s auto industry.

Conservative columnist and radio broadcaster Mark Steyn, guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s national radio show on Monday, argued that Detroit was fully to blame for its problems and that Eminem, with his raw lyrics and drug-fueled past, was a poor role model.

“Youre going to need more than an Eminem commercial to turn this town around, and it’s the braggadocio of the brain-dead to say, ‘Hey, we saved America in World War II, and cars is what we do,’” he told a Detroit radio station. “If Detroit citizens were as tough, gritty, blue-collar and hard-hat as the ad and my e-mail suggest, they wouldn’t have destroyed their own inheritance over 60 years,” he said.

Chrysler’s ad chief, Melissa Garvin, defended the spot.

“Our intent was to launch the 200 and to relaunch our brand. We feel this town and this company has been painted with a very broad brush,” she said. “The feedback we’ve gotten … has been incredibly positive and overwhelming. It is not isolated to Detroit. People are very open to Detroit, and I think we put [it] in a very positive light. We weren’t being apologetic. We are who we are. We make cars, and we make competitive cars.”

If the commercial captures a sense of optimism in the city, it’s because there are real glimmers of hope: Ford announced this week that it was raising U.S. factory orders by 13 percent. Attendance at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Hall in January was up, and the city’s school system is undergoing a painful but promising overhaul under financial-turnaround specialist Robert Bobb.

On Monday, Mayor David Bing, a former National Basketball Association star and an entrepreneur who took over the city in the wake of the scandal that sank Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, announced a program to fund housing rehabilitation for police officers who would agree to move into city neighborhoods and renovate vacant properties.

Sandy Baruah, the president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, says the rebirth movement emerged after the city survived the unthinkable — an auto-industry meltdown. He thinks the Chrysler ad was a subtle yet dramatic message that the Motor City was mounting a real comeback, led by a mayor who “gets it.”

“We now have a mayor in the city who is all Bing and no bling. He is a vastly different kind of mayor than we’ve had in the past, and he has provided quiet inspiration and volumes of confidence here,” said Mr. Baruah, who was president of the U.S. Small Business Administration under President George W. Bush.

“The auto industry literally went overnight from bankruptcy to an industry that is now leading the world,” Mr. Baruah said. “You look at Ford in part, but also GM and Chrysler as well. They are now the hot games in town. The hot products internationally are now starting to come from the American companies, and that is being recognized in the marketplace.

“People here are really starting to think different about what the city can and should be,” he added. “Things here went from being dark and bleak to where people are now seeing the light on the horizon. People here are ready for Detroit’s next great century. We do have the opportunity for a glorious future, and it’s going to be different.”

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