Lessenberry Defends L. Brooks Patterson 

The truth about babbling Brooks.

COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo

Last week everyone was shocked, horribly shocked, to learn that L. Brooks Patterson had — gasp! — said negative things about Detroit. To The New Yorker, no less!

Truthfully, many literary types in the area may really have been more shocked that The New Yorker deigned to notice our affluent super suburb. But nationally, it is now actually very “in” to discover Detroit, as it was to notice Appalachia in the 1960s.

Most of the ruin porn stories have been done to death, and when the New Year dawned, Kingfish Cushingberry had yet to burst depressingly on the scene. So, in search of a new angle, The New Yorker discovered Patterson, who loves the attention.

Saying bland, good government-type things doesn’t get much national notice. Nor does the enfant terrible of Oakland County have much to fear: Long ago, Patterson learned, the painful way, that he wasn’t going to be governor or senator.

Early on, he ran for those things, and never got past the GOP primary. He ran for state attorney general once too, and got smeared. He will be Oakland County executive till he dies.

That’s a prediction, and a pretty safe one. Two years ago, Patterson got what should have been a stiff challenge from Kevin Howley. A Huntington Woods resident with two small kids, Howley is a Harvard MBA who also has a Masters’ in public policy and a record as CEO and chief financial officer of a number of traditional and high-tech, venture capital firms.

Patterson, meanwhile, spent much of the campaign in a coma (this was kept from the voters) as a result of an August 2012 car crash in which neither he nor his driver was wearing a seat belt. Yet on election night, Patterson cruised to victory.

It was a personal triumph. Oakland County residents were once heavily Republican, but they are largely educated, sophisticated and have increasingly turned away from the intolerant women- and gay-bashing national party. They haven’t voted GOP for president in two decades.

But they sent Brooks back by the usual landslide, 57 to 43 percent. Now 75, Patterson has already said he means to run again in two years. Much of his popularity stems from the county’s huge economic success. Howley tried to make a case that this was built on smoke and mirrors and the slowly evaporating legacy of the past, but no one would listen.

They listened big time, however, when Patterson showed up between the pages of America’s snootiest magazine. The comment that got the most attention was: “What we’re going to do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and throw in the blankets and corn.”

Everyone freaked out — except me. I remembered very well the first time I read that Brooks had said those words, and I checked to make sure I was right. It was in the now-extinct Detroit Free Press Sunday Magazine for Sept. 21, 1975.

Thirty-eight-plus years ago, in other words! President Obama was then 14. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley wasn’t even a fetus.

Worlds change, nations disappear, but Brooks goes on being Brooks. This was one of his golden oldies. I don’t doubt he said it again, or the other things.

However — nobody should be surprised. Yes, that saying is outrageous, so much so that nobody really believes he means it. Patterson is, indeed, often the clown prince of local politics.

Much of the time, he behaves the way my dog does when my sweetheart plays with her little granddaughter: Hey! Pay attention to me too! But to their credit, The New Yorker article — and Patterson himself — are more complex than the news coverage seems. The fact is that even if you disagree with his love of urban sprawl — and I do — his administration has done some good and forward-looking things in Oakland County.

The New Yorker author (Paige Williams) notes that independent sources like Governing magazine have praised Patterson’s economic stewardship, including his use of a three-year budget that allows government to more efficiently plan.

Nor does Patterson see Detroit in completely stark terms. Eleven years ago, I sat down with him for a long interview.

While the New Yorker makes it appear that he was a gleeful Detroit-basher, Patterson told me “I never was a Detroit-basher; I grew up in Rosedale Park. I was a Coleman Young-basher. Dennis Archer was a decent guy; he certainly ended the hostility, and we more than met him halfway. But he didn’t halt the [economic] slide.” Fact was, that Mayor Young gave as good as he got. Two years before he died, I went to see him.

“Who is that son of a bitch you’ve got out there in Oakland County?” asked hizzoner. I couldn’t resist observing that we had a lot of them, which annoyed him.

“No, that chief executive MF,” he said, using the entire 12-letter term. When I said L. Brooks Patterson, he triumphantly said, “That’s him! That’s the son of a bitch.”

Ah, yes. The truth is that both Patterson and Young scored points with their voters by bashing each other.

Those days are long ago now. True, Brooks Patterson is in style and culture, something out of the ’50s, in many ways. He drinks too much and refers to women as “gals.”

But in fairness, you have to give him this: For years, he has no use for the religious right in the Republican Party, who he calls “the Taliban,” and none for gay-bashing.

Brooks was in favor of protecting sexual orientation with hate crime laws years ago, before some Democrats were.

Often, he is guilty of bad taste. But not everything he said about Detroit was totally untrue. Though he caught hell for his claim that stopping to get gas in Detroit was “a call for a carjacking,” I’ve heard liberal parents — some of whom happened to be black — give their kids the same warning.

In many ways, L. Brooks Patterson represents an era whose time is gone. I think his serving six more years is a terrible idea. Clearly, that car accident has taken a toll.
Yet he is more than a one-dimensional figure, and we need to acknowledge that. There are times when it would have been nice if some other politicians had something Patterson does: a sense of humor, and the ability to laugh at themselves.

Besides that — a Detroit that elects and puts up with George Cushingberry as council president pro tem is just giving those who sneer at the city a puck and an empty net.


THE DAVE AGEMA SHOW: Finally, after many months of his antics, most mainstream Republicans, including the GOP state and national chairs, are calling on Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema to resign.

Agema is the sicko who continually posts rants on Facebook about the alleged “filthy” sexual practices of LGBT folks, and has since expanded his open hatred to Muslims.
Last weekend, he finally issued a non-apologetic apology, but defiantly said he wasn’t quitting.

Which is great news … for Democrats, as Republicans who care about winning elections know.

By the way, which prominent Republican has not called on Dangerous Dave to resign? The answer would be …

Gov. Rick Snyder.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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