I cannot tell you the number of times I heard in the past two months that Port Huron's casino was a done deal. Everyone -- from the movers and shakers to the kid cutting my grass -- said the gambling facility, a potential catalyst for a massive $500 million development in downtown Port Huron, was a certainty.
The hopes and dreams of Port Huron and the entire Blue Water Area took one terrible hit Wednesday. In a shocking 298-l21 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives soundly rejected our casino dream.
We had come so far since those heady days of June 2001. Thomas Edison Inn owner Don Reynolds and labor leader Dick Cummings led the Port Huron Casino Committee. The group raised this community's support of the proposed casino development. It's been a long march -- seven years of endless minefields and a cost tens of millions of dollars from casino developer Mike Malik.
A bright, hard-working guy, Malik easily can run with the big dogs in Washington. Yet, he relates to the guys fishing off the docks.
It was Malik's vision and incredible drive that marshaled our forces in a fight against overwhelming odds. Without him, Port Huron never would have been a player in the casino game.
Never in these seven years did I hear the words, "It's a done deal," leave Malik's lips. He knows the Detroit and Washington crowds all too well.
The post-game analysis gives a pretty good picture of what happened and how Washington works. At the beginning of the day, the expectation was the vote would be close, but Port Huron's casino bill had enough hard votes to pass -- and enough soft ones to add a cushion of 20 to 30 votes.
The tables, however, were turning. In the past several days, with almost unlimited money, our opposition brought in a ringer.
Washington sources believe an old buddy of jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ex-House Speaker Tom Delay, was dragged out of Texas to work his magic on the House Republican members. Delay was able to convince about 30 House members to switch from supporting us to voting against us -- a 60-vote swing side to Detroit's side.
As U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, said Wednesday, "In a dark corner of a Maryland prison, Jack Abramoff is smiling right now."
The opposition used a clever tactical move. It had a large number its supporters, mainly Republican, vote quickly at the start of the balloting, thereby running up the no vote very quickly. The impression was the bill was headed for a landslide defeat.
With about 168 no votes cast, our side started to release members who had committed to supporting us, but didn't want to support a losing cause. The result was a crushing 298-121 loss with an incredible 177-vote spread. The opposition pretty much had their way with us.
I suggest you wait a few days before you mourn because there is one thing I have learned: Malik made a lifelong career as the fighting underdog. He never easily gives up the bone.