Finance

Michigan County Executive Under Fire for Controversial Quips About Detroit

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has spent this week on the defensive after he was quoted harshly criticizing Detroit in a controversial New Yorker article.
by | January 23, 2014
Oakland County, Mich., Executive L. Brooks Patterson, left, talks with then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in 2007. Kilpatrick is now in prison for public corruption charges.
Oakland County, Mich., Executive L. Brooks Patterson, left, talks with then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in 2007. Kilpatrick is now in prison for public corruption charges. AP/Gary Malerba
 

Oakland County, Mich., Executive L. Brooks Patterson has spent this week on the defensive after he was quoted harshly criticizing Detroit in a controversial New Yorker article.

It’s not the first time Patterson, 74, has made blunt comments about the Motor City, which is located just south of more affluent Oakland County. But the article, called “Drop Dead, Detroit!” has fired up area politicians and the local media for the racial undertones of some of his quotations. Patterson said this week that most of the quotes causing the controversy were decades-old and taken out of context.

In particular, New Yorker writer Paige Williams quoted Patterson in reference to Detroit’s finances as saying, “I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn.’”

Patterson told Governing on Thursday that the prediction was a 37-year-old comment he made while trying to draw a parallel to the city’s struggling black population that was floundering for help and the federal government addressing the Native Americans' plight by creating reservations that cut them off from the outside world.

“The black community in the area, they are being treated like the Indians were,” Patterson said Thursday.

The longtime county executive also took issue with his portrayal in the story, calling it an “ambush” and said the reporter led him to believe it would be a story about Oakland County’s booming economy versus Wayne County's struggling one. Patterson, who was recently named one of Governing’s Public Officials of the Year, was the leader behind the business association Automation Alley, which has made Southeast Michigan a top draw for tech companies and is a big reason why Michigan has landed on top tech lists in the past five years.

The biggest insult, Patterson said, was the use of the word chauffeur to describe the driver of Patterson’s minivan. “I was in a car accident. I can’t drive. I’m in a wheelchair,” he said. "I’m not being chauffeured.”

Williams, the reporter, told the Detroit Free Press earlier this week the article was a balanced portrait. “Our focus was simply to explore what made Oakland County so successful,” she said. “That’s what we did do.”

Several groups have called on Patterson to apologize and he has issued statements to several local media outlets and appeared on a few local radio shows. But he said Thursday he won’t apologize for his comments.

“To apologize would be to give credence to that article," he said, "and I’m not going to.”

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