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Oakland Exec Brooks Patterson Says He Didn't Tell Detroit to 'Drop Dead'

Civil rights group and others demand an apology from Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, but he says comments were taken out of context or lifted from 30-year-old news archives.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson is taking heat for comments he made for an interview for a story in The New Yorker this week. (Patch file photo)
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson is taking heat for comments he made for an interview for a story in The New Yorker this week. (Patch file photo)

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson says he didn’t tell Detroit to drop dead, though a headline on an article in this week’s issue of The New Yorker screams that.

In her profile of Patterson, published Monday in an online edition, writer Page Williams sets the tone early:

“Oakland County, a large, affluent suburb of Detroit. Oakland County embodies fiscal success as much as Detroit does financial ruin, and Patterson, the county executive, tends to behave as though his chief job in life were to never let anyone forget it. One week in September, he gave me an extended tour of his empire, in a chauffeured minivan. Near the end of the first day, we headed toward Lake St. Clair, at the mouth of the Detroit River, for a party on a yacht. Patterson sat in the front passenger seat. Over his shoulder, he said, ‘Anytime I talk about Detroit, it will not be positive. Therefore, I’m called a Detroit basher. The truth hurts, you know? Tough s---.’”

Ouch. 

And then it goes downhill, faster than a toboggan on one of Oakland County's famed sledding hills:

“Before you go to Detroit, you get your gas out here (Oakland)," Williams quoted Patterson as saying. "You don’t, do not, under any circumstances, stop in Detroit at a gas station! That’s just a call for a carjacking.”

And then this, regarding the best course for a financial turn-around for Detroit:

“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 the corn.”

In an interview with Patch Tuesday, Patterson’s spokesman, William Mullan, said the  “Indian reservation” comment was made 30 years ago and Patterson has repeatedly apologized for it.

The comment about not buying gas in Detroit was also taken out of context, Mullan said, “something he would tell his children.”

Mullan said Williams took only a “passing side glance” at technology initiatives, such as Automation Alley, designed to build on Detroit’s strength as the auto industry capital of North America.

Instead, he said, she chose to focus the piece as one in which “Detroit is Detroit and Oakland County is Oakland County, and never the ‘tween shall meet.”

In a statement Mullan released Tuesday, Patterson said he is committed to establishing a productive working relationship with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

Patterson’s full statement follows:

“I regret that something I said 30 years ago is causing such consternation today. I have worked hard to build good relationships with some of the past mayors of Detroit. I do not intend for The New Yorker article to damage my relationship with Mayor Duggan and I look forward to working with him over the next four years.

“I want to remind Mayor Duggan of what I said at the Big 4 Luncheon at the Auto Show last week and these are my true feelings: That I want to work with him, and I want to make sure that any project that he has that I can be supportive of, to give me a call.

“The reporter, Paige Williams, told us she wanted to compare and contrast Detroit and Oakland County: why Oakland County is well managed and why on our southern border a great American city is in bankruptcy. For several days, my staff and I spoke with her about our office management style, the ways we have assisted Detroit, regional success stories such as the Cobo Authority, and the county’s major programs that are having a positive impact on the region. We are beyond disappointed that none of those in-depth discussions made it into the article for balance.”

Patterson has not apologized for comments, which Detroit City Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins said “are so outrageous that they don’t even deserve a response,” the  Detroit Free Press reports.

Among the groups asking him to apologize is the National Action Network, founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton. The group’s Michigan chapter president, the Rev. Charles Williams II of Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, said “it’s time for your vicious, malicious attacks on Detroiters and minorities to stop,” the Free Press reports.

“Detroit has moved on,” Williams reportedly said. “It’s time for you to move on, too.”

Mullan said Patterson hasn’t read the full New Yorker story and doesn’t plan to.

“He read the headline, was so turned off by it and decided not to read it further,” Mullan said “

Asked if Patterson plans to further apologize, Mullan told Patch “his statement stands as it is” and that his boss is eager to put the issue behind him.

It’s clear some in Michigan aren’t ready to do that.

Michigan political observer Bill Ballenger likened Patterson to “the uncle who tells dirty jokes,” the Free Press reported, stopping “short of going over the edge, just short of going too far.”

Ballenger said he was also interviewed for The New Yorker piece, but said his quotes were accurately reflected.

“He gets away with murder,” Ballenger reportedly said of the 75-year-old Republican. “Patterson has always been able to maintain this image of not being personally or viscerally hostile to either the African-American population or the city, but he tells it like he sees it with some hard-edged jokes.”

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