Patterson’s victory may not be his last, observers say

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson spent a long night watching election returns with fellow Republicans and Wednesday spent his day responding to media questions and hundreds of congratulatory emails and text messages, according to his spokesperson Bill Mullan.

Voters returned the 77-year-old Patterson to office for a seventh term by a 53.5 percent to 46.1 percent vote, one of the highest margins of any county victory in the election.

“Today I’m grateful to the voters for reelecting me as their county executive,” Patterson said. “My administration and I will continue to lead Oakland County into the future — a future that you and I both share when it comes to jobs and quality of life. Thank you for the vote of confidence.”

While some have speculated this will be Patterson’s last term, insiders say don’t bet on it.

In response to questions from The Detroit News, Patterson listed his three priorities over the next four years:

■Provide a highly trained work force for the knowledge-based economy and skilled trades.

■Address regional challenges in a way that protects county residents, businesses and taxpayers.

■Continue innovating in a balanced, multiyear budgeting while maintaining a AAA bond rating.

Patterson’s opponent Tuesday, Vicki Barnett, was critical of his “autos first, people second” approach to development that she believed often resulted in sprawl at the expense of the environment. Still, Barnett begrudgingly admits Patterson, who earns about $177,000 a year, is showing signs of fixing up older suburbs which is closer to her “fix-it-first” philosophy.

“The thing about Brooks is he really values ideas — he doesn’t just encourage brainstorming, he frees you up to execute the ideas into action — that’s a rarity in government,” said one of his deputy executives, Philip R. Bertolini, who oversees information technology for the county.

When talk turns to who may one day take over when Patterson has had enough, there is no shortage of potential candidates and none of them ever care to discuss the possibility, as if treading on political quicksand. But Bertolini’s name surfaces at the top, along with that of Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett and Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard.

Bryan Barnett is young and energetic. He bucked his city’s rules that restricted him from running for re-election in 2015 and ran and won his office as a write-in candidate. He is an unabashed fan of Patterson.

“I not only admire him I have modeled some of our programs in Rochester Hills after those he (Patterson) started in the county,” Bryan Barnett said at a recent breakfast honoring county residents and business.

If anyone has come close to Patterson’s voter popularity in Oakland County it is fellow Republican Bouchard, who supervises the county’s 1,300-member sheriff’s department.

Political analyst Bill Ballenger even crowned Bouchard the county’s most popular vote-getter after his recent re-election in which he won 59 percent of the votes. Bouchard has garnered more votes than other countywide candidates in several elections.

Bouchard, who has served in the Michigan House of Representatives and State Senate, is politically savvy with experience not only in Lansing, but also in Washington. He is 60 years old, has 28 years in law enforcement and was named the nation’s outstanding sheriff in 2016 by National Sheriffs’ Association.

As voter demographics have changed in Oakland County and seen Democratic candidates take over countywide offices traditionally won by Republicans, Bouchard and Patterson have remained on top, seemingly unbeatable.

Even when the county goes Democratic, Patterson defies the odds and gets the lion’s share of votes, Ballenger said.

“At the end of the next term Patterson will be 81, an octogenarian,” Ballenger said.

“He’s doing a good job. Who’s to say he won’t run again?”

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