Opinion
11:02 am
Tue January 21, 2014

L. Brooks Patterson slammed for comments about Detroit, and he probably loves it

Jack's essay for Tuesday Jan. 21, 2014

I’ve been a faithful subscriber to and reader of The New Yorker for years, though I have to confess that some weeks I only have time to look at the magazine’s wonderful cartoons.

But if you had asked me last week who in Michigan was most likely to be profiled in The New Yorker, I’ll bet I would have offered 20 names before I came up with L. Brooks Patterson.

Patterson, who has been a fixture in Oakland County for more than 40 years, is being raked over the coals today for his Detroit-slamming remarks in this week’s New Yorker interview.

He is quoted as saying:

“Anytime I talk about Detroit, it will not be positive. Therefore, I’m called a Detroit-basher. The truth hurts, you know? Tough *bleep*.”

Today, his official spokesman is saying the story cast him  in a false light. Well, I have known Patterson for a long time, and I am sure he isn’t unhappy about this story.

He’s probably thrilled. That’s because everybody is paying attention to him.

Yes, he said all these things, the most outrageous of which was probably his statement that Detroit would eventually become an Indian reservation, where, quote, “we build a fence around it and throw in the blankets and corn.”

What this is, however, is an oldie but goody from the Patterson hit parade. He said precisely the same thing in September 1975.

"I never was a Detroit-basher," he told me. "I was a Coleman Young-basher. I was born and raised in Detroit. I got a fine education in the Detroit public schools," he told me.

Eleven years ago, I sat down for a long interview with L. Brooks. I asked him if he hated the city.

“I never was a Detroit-basher,” he told me. “I was a Coleman Young-basher. I was born and raised in Detroit. I got a fine education in the Detroit public schools,” he told me.

Actually, Patterson, now 75, lived in Detroit till he got a job as an assistant Oakland County prosecutor when he was almost 30.

Patterson’s political career started soon after that, when he became the flamboyant attorney for an anti-school busing group in Pontiac.

That led to his election as county prosecutor, and later county executive. He loves the limelight, and quickly found he could appeal to his base and get headlines by bashing Detroit’s equally flamboyant mayor, Coleman Young – who did the same thing.

What the profile misses is that Patterson is actually far more complex.

He is strongly in favor of providing funds to save the Detroit Institute of Arts.

In recent years, he has more frequently gotten notice for bashing the more extreme elements of his own Republican Party...

In recent years, he has more frequently gotten notice for bashing the more extreme elements of his own Republican Party, calling them “the Taliban.” He has no use for gun nuts or homophobia. He has had his own public battles with the bottle.

His biggest impact has been as an unapologetic booster of development and urban sprawl.

Personally, I suspect these are difficult days for Patterson.

His political career never went beyond Oakland County. He is twice divorced. His son and namesake died in a freak snowmobile accident a few years ago. He is also still suffering the effects of a 2012 car crash that left him in a coma for days.

How long he will be on the scene is anyone’s guess – though one thing is clear. Don’t expect him to go quietly. L. Brooks Patterson never does.