Bankole: Patterson should finally board progress train

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

I have not always agreed with Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, whose attention-drawing postures often dominate the headlines whenever he speaks forcefully or takes a position on an issue of regional importance.

But I admire the tenacity, zest and courage he has consistently demonstrated in defending and protecting the interests of Oakland County. To his credit, the kind of leadership he has shown over the years has earned him the abiding confidence of the county’s residents who continue to re-elect him.

That said Patterson needs a reality check regarding his refusal to fully support a millage by giving wealthy cities in his county the option of backing out of a proposed November ballot initiative to fund regional mass transit.

“They’re asking me to betray my constituents, violate my oath of office, and overnight become a regional taxing icon. I will never betray the public that I respect and represent,” Patterson said in a Feb. 7 State of the County Address in Pontiac.

While that seems like good politics for Patterson, who has always played to his base, it is an untenable and an exclusionary position to take in a region that is in desperate need of a transit system.

The dean of Oakland County needs to seriously reconsider his unhelpful stance on mass transit because it is not rooted in the reality of the growing socioeconomic demands facing this region.

For decades talk about a transportation system that will make the region a more fertile ground for innovation and technology has always hit a snag with the political players, stemming from the lack of a strategic and cohesive vision that is anchored on the idea that despite the diverse communities that make up the region, we are all tied in the same boat of destiny. Just because other communities seem to be doing well economically than others doesn’t mean mass transit isn’t needed here.

The region recently being ruled out by Amazon for an expansion is the most glaring example as to why we can’t keep saying no to collaborative initiatives such as transit, that will make southeast Michigan more competitive as well as create opportunities for a sustainable future.

One of the key reasons Amazon likely snubbed us was the lack of a regional transit system. It would have made our pitch to the global retail giant for its second corporate headquarters accepting. This is fact, not fiction.

That means the region’s leaders not only Patterson, but also Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, must get on board the train of economic progress and ride with the rest.

Their failure to do so would mean the region could risk losing more Amazon opportunities in the future.

What else does Patterson need to be convinced that a transit system benefits the whole of the region, not just Detroit? That collaborating on an important quality of life issue like transportation makes this area more attractive for even bigger investment opportunities that could land in Oakland County itself?

Lest we forget, Southfield, one of Oakland County’s most diverse cities, pitched Northland Mall for Amazon’s new headquarters.

Oakland County, despite all of its successes, is not an island unto itself. It is part of the region and its future is inextricably linked to the future of Detroit. It is also becoming increasingly diverse, as evidenced by the number of African-Americans and other ethnic groups that call that county their home.

The mantra of regional collaboration should not just be confined to eloquent speeches and panel discussions at business forums.

It should be implemented in the form of an effective public transportation system that will provide access and mobility all across the region.

The dream of making mass transit a reality for now remains a dream deferred until leaders like Patterson see that this is an inescapable regional need that benefits everyone.

Anything short of that is a slap in the face of meaningful regional cooperation.

Yes, Patterson has shown he can be a tough negotiator. But kicking against transit only reaffirms for many that little has changed in this region.

We can do better.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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