Patterson wins another term as Oakland County executive

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Waterford Township — County Executive  L. Brooks Patterson may not carry Oakland County as strong as he has in past elections, but he's is still a force to be reckoned with at the ballot box,  a political analyst said early Wednesday.

Patterson defeated challenger Vicki Barnett handily by an 8 percentage point margin, 54 percent of the vote compared to 46 percent. The Clarkston resident won his seventh term.

"You've got to give him credit," said Bill Ballenger. "He did it on his own and he outperformed the top of the ballot (Donald Trump took only 43 percent of Oakland County votes, while Hillary Clinton garnered 51 percent).

"It's something he did when Mitt Romney ran and when John McCain ran and George W. Bush ran. He may not get the 60-plus percentage of votes that he did in the past but he does pretty good.

"He's 77 years old and had a serious accident a couple years ago and he's still going strong," said Ballenger. " Who knows what's next in the next four years?"

Barnett, a former state lawmaker and Farmington Hills mayor, said she phoned and left a message for Patterson late Tuesday night: her concession.

"I congratulated him on his re-election," she said. "I live in Oakland County and wished him all the best. The numbers were very clear and Oakland County (voters) have spoken

"I did my best and it was a good, hard-fought campaign," she said. "We all want the best for Oakland County. We just have different ideas on how to get there."

Ballenger said while Patterson remains popular, one of his fellow Republicans might now be the county's top vote-getter.

"Mike Bouchard took more than 59 percent of the vote in the sheriff's race," he noted. "That makes him the most popular."

There were six county-wide races up for grabs Tuesday in Oakland County but none drew more interest than that between Brooks and Barnett.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, flanked by Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett (left) and Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, announces his re-election victory at the GOP watch party at Heroes in Waterford Township, Michigan on November 8, 2016.

The closely-watched race was considered to be the biggest political challenge to Patterson’s county political career, which included 16 years as its prosecutor.

Barnett wanted badly to publicly debate Patterson on issues but the incumbent never showed any interest, instead choosing to hold an occasional press conference to tout yet another success under his management.

In other countywide races:

  • Incumbent Jessica Cooper, a Democrat,won her re-election bid for prosecuting attorney, outpacing Republican Mike Goetz, 50 percent to 45 percent; Libertarian Steve Afton (whose brother is running for prosecutor in Wayne County), had 4 percent.
  • Incumbent Michael Bouchard, a Republican, defeated challenger Democrat Craig S. Covey for sheriff, 59 percent to 40 percent.
  • Incumbent Democrat Lisa Brown outpaced Republican Bill Bullard Jr., for clerk, 54 percent to 45 percent. 
  • Democratic incumbent Andy Meisner won against Republican John P. McCulloch for treasurer. Meisner had 54 percent of the vote.
  • Democratic incumbent Jim Nash outdistanced Republican Robert E. Buxbaum for water resources commissioner, 54 percent to 45 percent.

At its most aggressive move, Patterson’s campaign reportedly bought several thousand 30-second advertisements on local cable TV stations over the past 10 days. Perhaps not an unusual tactic to generate votes but still surprising for Patterson, who doesn’t even bother printing yard signs because his has become a household name across the county and beyond.

The TV spots focused on the Patterson legacy to date, reminding viewers how he has maintained a $826-million three-year budget and a AAA bond rating from Wall Street, at the same time, promoting 21st Century progressive initiatives for economic development throughout the county.

Due to his success and popularity, the outspoken Patterson has frequently weathered politically incorrect and — some say divisive remarks — such as threatening to sue to stop Syrian immigrants from relocating to Oakland County because of his concerns over ISIS.

Oakland Couunty Executive L. Brooks Patterson shows off his Donald Trump socks his grandchildren got him after arriving at the GOP watch party at Heroes in Waterford Township, Tuesday night.

Joshua Harris, a 26-year-old African American from Wixom, said he voted for Patterson and all the other Democrats down the ballot.

“He’s been doing a pretty good job,” Harris said of Patterson. “I’m a Democrat … L. Brooks is the only one I split for. … He’s been doing an OK job, so I just wanted to keep him in there.”

Barnett focused her own campaign on going door-to-door and also sharing her vision with community groups. She stressed how unlike her opponent, she embraced the idea of a diverse political county.

She has portrayed Patterson as “stuck in the rut” and in a past with an “autos over people” approach to future development at the expense of the environment. She notes that unlike her, Patterson has not supported a regional transit authority tax plan but instead been a cheerleader for the $1.2 billion widening of Interstate 75, which he likened to Oakland County’s Main Street. She described it as unnecessary and costly to communities which will have to pitch in on the costs.

She frets Patterson doesn’t see major changes helping to move other communities, including Detroit, forward. In her view, Patterson and the county are “coasting on its past.”

Barnett has criticized Patterson as being pro-sprawl and development of vacant land for subdivisions and shopping malls. She maintains a view that “we need to fix what we have” and focus on maintenance of the infrastructure in older suburbs, including insuring the safety of drinking water.

Trevor Harris, 25, Bloomfield Hills, supported Vicki Barnett in the executive race because he’s ready for a change in that office. Harris said he doesn’t agree with some of Patterson’s policies.

“I’m not completely fond of what L. Brooks Patterson does,” Harris said.

Patterson’s popularity in the past few elections has been remarkable. In 2012, he didn’t even campaign because of serious injuries suffered in a traffic accident, yet he collected 57 percent of votes to 43 percent for Democratic challenger Kevin Howley. That’s about as close as it has been for him.

Political analyst Bill Ballenger cautioned even the smallest of margin of victory could be as much as an “unusual election year trend” as a rejection of a seasoned candidate, like Patterson.

Ballenger noted how Oakland County — once staunchly Republican — has increasingly voted more Democratic in recent elections — not just for president but also placing their candidates into seats such as prosecutor, clerk, treasurer and water resources commissioner.

“It (vote) can reflect voter trends or preference,” Ballenger said. “If Patterson wins even by a small margin it doesn’t show voters don’t like him or his message. If he’s anywhere near to margins obtained by other Republican top-vote getters it simply shows he survived a wave of Democratic votes in a rather unusual election year.”

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Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.