- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

DETROIT (AP) - Michael Moore says parts of it look like “the landscape of another planet.”

Ted Nugent refers to its “embarrassing filth.”

Mary Wilson speaks of its beauty and prosperity _ from another time, long ago.

What is this woeful place? It’s Detroit, a city they all know well and (believe it or not) love dearly.

It’s also a place that’s hard to avoid hearing about lately.

It started last month when the contestants from “American Idol” descended for “Motown Week” and heated up Monday with a presidential rejection of General Motors’ and Chrysler’s turnaround plans. It ends this weekend when college basketball’s premier showcase, the Final Four, hits town.

The events have trained an oversized spotlight on the Michigan metropolis and have people across America talking about the state of the Motor City.

Three of those who weighed in this week are Moore, Nugent and Mary Wilson, all famed Michigan-bred entertainers who were asked to address autos and all things Detroit. And the consensus is this: The city has seen better days.

“Sadly, a majority of Americans have written off Detroit, and for those of us who grew up in Michigan and still live here `heartbreaking’ doesn’t really describe it,” said Moore, who rose to prominence with his 1989 documentary, “Roger & Me,” which focused on GM plant closings in his hometown of Flint.

Moore, who now lives in Traverse City, currently is filming a movie on the economic crisis, Wall Street and corporate greed _ “a comedy,” he says.

Moore recently was flying to Detroit when, on approach, an out-of-towner in a nearby seat motioned toward the window and asked the filmmaker: “What’s it like down there?”

Nothing like it used to be, Moore told his fellow traveler.

“There was an attitude then that anything was possible,” said Moore, who feels the old Detroit mantra that hard work equals a good life no longer holds.

He places the blame on the shoulders of auto executives, who he says presided over “a pathetically run business.”

He applauded President Barack Obama’s decision to remove Rick Wagoner from his post atop General Motors Corp. The new president on Monday also rejected GM’s and Chrysler LLC’s restructuring plans and set the stage for a major realignment of the industry.

Nugent, the wildman rocker and outdoor enthusiast known as the “Motor City Madman,” is far to the right of Moore on the political spectrum and doesn’t see government intervention in autos as a particularly good thing.

“Left to their own accord and entrepreneurial enterprise, I am confident the U.S. auto industry would have outperformed all others. … Now that Fedzilla has had the audacity to turn up the havoc-wreaking, criminally violating the U.S. Constitution and all parameters of logic and decency, it appears the death knell has sounded. It breaks my Motor City heart,” he said.

Wilson, who grew up in Detroit, fondly remembers the city then as “a beautiful, prosperous place” where car jobs were plentiful. Her father worked in an auto factory.

She later became a member of the legendary Motown group The Supremes and went on to worldwide fame. Wilson said she “wouldn’t have wanted to grow up in any other city.”

But Wilson, who now lives in Las Vegas, said things have soured in Detroit, and jobs could be the key to a resurgence.

“It’s all about people working. The city needs the factories,” she said. “It needs the auto industry … so people can work.”

As for the city itself, the trio believes Detroit can rise again despite the autos meltdown, recent mayoral scandal and the long-standing problems of crime, poverty, blight and population loss.

Some good news will arrive Saturday when years of planning and preparation culminate in tens of thousands of hoops enthusiasts, many of whom traveled a great distance, packing Ford Field.

“Outsiders will experience the glowing good will and decency of the fine folks of Detroit and Michigan … and will also eat great food and meet great people and hear soulful music,” said Nugent, who will be back in town later this month for a reunion of his group, the Amboy Dukes.

While some in the converted football stadium will be pulling for one of the other three entrants, it’s fair to expect quite a few will be cheering on the local favorites from Michigan State, who play Big East power Connecticut in the evening’s first game.

Moore, who often is seen wearing a green Michigan State ball cap, has this prediction: Spartans 72, Huskies 53.

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