Community pride and unease about the media fuel a strong backlash against a Fox 2 News report about building code violations at a Detroit councilwoman's home.
In a story Tuesday night, M.L. Elrick said: "Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López's home is nestled in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the Sixth Council District. It's far from one of the nicest homes." He cites blight violation notices from the city in 2011 and 2012.
Neighbors and others, including a family member, push back on social media.
Mariana Castañeda-López, a sister of the elected official, calls out the TV station for "their smear story that aired [Tuesday] night."
Another Detroiter, NeShun Carter, posts: "It was low-down, dirty and rotten." His reaction is part of a lively Facebook thread started by Rashida Tlaib, an attorney who lives in the district and was a state representative from 2009-14.
"She is Southwest's daughter and we don't let our own get attacked," Tlaib comments Wednesday.
"When reporters come from privilege and attack others that don't, it makes me angry," the former legislator adds. "Attacking a family, not just my councilwoman, without knowing the full story, is disgusting and unethical."
Two of the councilwoman's sisters, Mariana and Alicia, started a private Facebook group "as a platform for discussion of ideas to support" the family and perhaps improve the home. The description says: "What ideas do you have for countering this story by demonstrating our continued support for Raquel, and to pour love into this home that has nurtured so many beautiful people and needs some nurturing now?"
Update: Volunteers plan exterior work Sunday (Sept. 24), according to Alicia Castañeda-López. They'll "scrape, paint and do a few other repairs," she posts.
In his eight-minute story (video below), Elrick says: "We heard her home was about to become an election issue." On her Facebook page, Tlaib comments: "And we wonder why people like us don't run for office."
The Southwest Detroit councilwoman, a 35-year-old social worker, made her first try for public office in 2013 and became the first Latina elected to Detroit's Council. She's a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor's degree from the University of Montana and a master’s from the University of Michigan.
Fox 2's segment includes comments from Castañeda-López, who tells Elrick his questions about past blight violations are "completely inappropriate." She says:
"You know, my parents sacrificed so we could go to college and they didn't have enough to invest in repairing the home."
On her reaction thread, Tlaib accuses accuses the station of "attacking a family . . . without knowing the full story. . . . It is more complicated. . . .
"I have always had my issues with Fox 2 and their ugly tactics. This is why I won't talk to them anymore for any story."
These are among other comments posted:
- "Unless you know the struggle, you cannot understand. But for sure, this has made lots of more people . . . get behind her." -- Jesse Gonzales Sr.
- "So to be successful, your home needs to look like the Jones'? Nice, Fox News, real nice." -- Suzy Villarreal-Garza
"I respect the fact that she didn't abandon her family. She could've easily moved and left her people, but she understands that when all the City Council hype is gone, all you got is family. . . .
"Obviously she isn't looking out for herself. It takes a special person to care for others. Most won't get it because we live in a selfish society." -- Tarence Wheeler (two posts)
- "I don't know her family situation, but I know she's my neighbor, and I know I'm glad she's representing me." -- Phil Clark
- "Fox News should be ashamed of this story. Our councilwoman, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, is as hardworking as they come, standing up to corporate welfare and greed in the city. This reporter should go knock on some billionaire-owned blighted properties with the same relentlessness." -- Melanie McElroy
- "Raquel is one of our own and we must stand behind her. She is one of three council members that still believe in our communities, in the people of Detroit." -- Isabelle Romero
- "It broke my heart to see this story! I was so ashamed that this news reporter and this news station would stoop so low! . . . It was low-down, dirty and rotten to the core!" -- NeShun Carter
- "Maybe this guy [Elrick] shouldn't be welcomed to our park in the winter for his [charity] hockey game? Maybe it's time for all of us to come together against idiot news media like this?" -- Rudy Hill
- "I appreciate her and what she has done for our community." -- Jean-Claude Lewis
- "Raquel is good for Southwest Detroit. I support her also." -- Donna Broughton
- "[If the] home was too nice, they'd be complaining about that too. At least she's humble enough to not insist on a ridiculous mansion, but to stay in the home from her family." -- Angela Guadalupe Reyes
- "This personal attack is just an excuse to draw the ire and attention from privileged suburbanites who don't understand SW [Detroit] or her politics. It makes me sick to my stomach. And the same people who nod in agreement with this video probably . . . can't empathize with someone supporting a family and paying student loans on 75K." -- Jake Vorkapich
- "Infuriatingly offensive to someone who represents her neighborhood well." -- Therese Yglesias
- "[This] tells me she isn't in public service for her own self-interest. I'm her constituent." -- Adam Rakes
Original article, Wednesday morning:
Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López's office has been known to call the Detroit Building, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department to complain about blighted homes.
Ironically, she lives in this rundown Southwest Detroit home across from Clark Park, reports M.L. Elrick.
"There's nothing that we have heard in terms of the condition of the house. It's over 100 years old, for sure, so like most homes in the city of Detroit, needs repairs," she tells Fox 2 News.
City records show in 2011, Castañeda-López's family was ordered to repair or replace defective gutters, remove peeling paint and repair the defective front porch. That was six years ago. She said the Detroit Building, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED) don’t have anything on file in relation to her house.
"To our knowledge we haven't received any blight violations. . . . There's no record from 2011," Castañeda-López said. "There's nothing else that was ever sent to our house or that BSEED has on file for our property."
Our reporting found that Castañeda-López’s family was notified in 2011 that the home had violations. A zoning clearance check shows in 2012 the home needed repairs to gutters, downspouts, peeling paint and the porch. That was just a year later.
When we showed Castañeda-López a copy of the document, the councilwoman said she was unaware of any notice sent to her home.
"I would encourage you to check the validity of that document because I just spoke to BSEED this morning. So they didn't give me anything related to this. I just talked to them this morning, I'm sure they would have given me something if there was something on file, but they have nothing on file for 2011 or 2012," Castañeda-López said.