Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan addresses attendees at the Voices for Action Review on Saturday. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Detroit— Mayor Mike Duggan spoke out Saturday about critical comments Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson made about the city in a magazine article that came out earlier this week.
“It’s exactly the kind of thing that has sidetracked this city for years,” said Duggan, referencing the negative publicity shed on Detroit after The New Yorker published a story about Patterson entitled “Drop Dead, Detroit!”
The article, which was available to subscribers on Monday, opened with Patterson, 75, saying, “Anytime I talk about Detroit, it will not be positive. Therefore, I’m called a Detroit basher. The truth hurts, you know. Tough (expletive).”
Writer Paige Williams included new quotes from Patterson as well as older controversial quotes from throughout his career. The article characterized Patterson as the suburban kingpin who is thriving off the city’s decline.”
The backlash to Patterson’s comments was swift, prompting Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to host a forum Saturday on race relations between suburbanites and city residents.
Anthony said Patterson was invited to attend the forum, but was not available. Patterson’s spokesman Bill Mullan said the Oakland County Executive was invited to attend but is out of town at a previously scheduled event.
“We are moving forward from the events this week and will focus on doing what we do best: attracting jobs in the knowledge-based economy, maintaining a balanced three-year budget and AAA bond rating, and developing initiatives that improve quality of life,” Mullan said in a statement Saturday.
Duggan gave his comments during a speech following a panel discussion at the event.
“I called him up afterward and I said: ‘Brooks you need to give two sentences. What I said was dumb. And I apologize. And that’s it. And stop talking, that’s what you need to do,’” Duggan told a predominantly African-American crowd gathered at the UAW Ford National Programs Center downtown.
Duggan said he was torn about how to respond to Patterson because he didn’t want to bring more attention to the comments, but he also didn’t want to anger city residents.
“Do I do a really harsh attack on him, raise the visibility nationally and sidetrack the city of Detroit? … or do I kind of let it slide and have the African-American community start saying he didn’t want to attack his fellow white guy?” he told attendees. “I’m in a no-win situation. The racial politics have put me in a situation where I’m going to lose no matter what.”
Duggan ended up working with Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones to issue a joint statement Tuesday where they called for an apology.
“Brooks Patterson’s statements were not what you would expect from a regional partner with a vested interest in a strong and healthy Detroit,” the statement read.
Prior to Duggan’s speech, panelists representing the media as well as Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence and New Detroit President and CEO Shirley Stancato shared their thoughts on Patterson’s comments.
“Words are powerful. Those of us in leadership positions need to understand that. I think we should focus on having leaders be accountable,” said Stancato, whose organization is a coalition of different business, government and community leaders who work to improve race relations in the region.
“There’s a whole circle of saying something, someone asking you to apologize and you apologize because they asked. You need to be accountable.”
Also in attendance were The Detroit News’ editorial page editor Nolan Finley, Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley and Michigan Chronicle senior editor Bankole Thompson.
“He’s made a mess here. He’s realized it. He does owe a clarification and an apology,” Finley said. “What goes into his head comes out of his mouth. I don’t think he’s a racist person. He just has no filter.”
Anthony said he doesn’t want to reduce the issue to only Patterson.
“The greatest enemy of all of us is not economics, it’s not politics, it’s ignorance,” he said. “If we don’t get over this ignorance syndrome, we’re going to continue to suffer.”