Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Iíve always said if Brooks Patterson werenít so quotable, heíd be governor, or a U.S. senator, or who knows what.
The Oakland County executive is the greatest political talent of the last half-century in Michigan. But every time he opens his mouth itís an adventure. No political foe has hurt Brooks over the years as much as heís hurt himself with unchecked quips and quotes.
He canít help it. If something funny or clever pops into his head, he has to let it out of his mouth or burst.
So is anyone really surprised that Brooks finds himself in the hot seat again for untoward remarks about the city of Detroit?
The comments were made to a reporter from New Yorker magazine who, Brooks says, also dug out eye-popping comments dating back 30 years to oh-so-neatly fit the narrative that Brooks is a Detroit-bashing racist running against the current in denying the cityís comeback.
Itís pure bullwhacky. I know Brooks well enough not to doubt he fed the reporter a notebook full of juicy quotes, each one begging to be a headline. Heís unfiltered, and it never seems to occur to him how his words might look in print.
The words make a better story than the reality of what Brooks Patterson has meant to this region, and to Detroit.
The economic strength and sound management of Pattersonís Oakland County kept Metro Detroit breathing during the Great Recession, when everything else here was collapsing.
In those long years before downtown Detroit was a cool place to be, Pattersonís Oakland County provided the region with a de facto center, offering the housing, shopping and entertainment essential for attracting jobs and residents.
While other political leaders were going to jail and marching their communities to insolvency, Patterson was running an ethical, competent administration recognized nationally for its innovation. His stable leadership kept this region from being written off as a third-world outpost.
Patterson took heat for demanding a greater suburban voice on the Cobo Hall authority. But the governing model he pushed for has changed Cobo from an ATM for crooked politicians and greedy unions into a beautiful, money-making convention center.
Heís making similar demands of the new water authority, and rate payers in southeast Michigan better hope he gets it.
Does Brooks harbor some deep animosity toward Detroit? I donít believe it. I was there last week at the Detroit Economic Club when he extended his hand to new Mayor Mike Duggan and said, ďwhatever I can do, call me.Ē
He made a similar pledge to former Mayor Dave Bing, offering to loan the city his crackerjack finance team to straighten out the cityís books.
He is resentful of the notion that he should sacrifice the interests of Oakland County for the good of Detroit. Thatís not what he was elected to do. His ego does get bruised when Detroit overshadows Oakland ó he once complained to me the media yawns at a new half-billion dollar office development in his county, but gives the opening of a pancake house in Detroit four days of coverage.
And he sometimes canít help but gloat when comparing the government of Detroit to the one he runs. That can lead him to say insensitive things.
This time, he told the New Yorker (the New Yorker? What was he thinking?) he warns his children not to stop for gasoline in Detroit. Well guess what? After education activist Sharlonda Buckman had her car stolen from a station at gunpoint last fall, I heard a lot of people ó black, white, Detroiters and suburbanites ó say the same thing.
As for his comment about the fulfillment of an old prediction he made that Detroit would become the equivalent of an Indian reservation, with the people waiting for corn and blankets to be tossed in, well, the remark was crude, but not far off the mark. Get off the freeways and drive into the cityís neighborhoods. Youíll see vast wastelands of blight and abandonment, with a population largely dependent on government hand-outs.
Brooks is blunt. He talks too much. The things he says can make us cringe. Heís also honest, effective and totally committed to his people.
Iíll take a leader who sometimes puts his foot in his mouth over one that canít keep his hands out of my pocket any day.