Update: The New Yorker Profiles Patterson, And The Detroit-Bashing Never Stops

January 20, 2014, 8:37 AM

UPDATE, 5:30 p.m.: Patterson spokesman issues statement, saying the New Yorker writer had an "agenda." See below.

The New Yorker profiles Oakland County L. Brooks Patterson in this week's issue, which was posted on the magazine's website early Monday, though it is available only to subscribers. 

Headlined "DROP DEAD, DETROIT! ... The suburban kingpin who Is thriving off the city's decline," the story is written by Paige Williams, who describes Patterson's decades-long hostility toward the Motor City but also makes clear how, under Patterson's 21-year leadership, Oakland has achieved an unusually high bond rating and reputation for efficient, clean and progressive government.

A Standard & Poors analyst is quoted as saying if counties were color-coded, Oakland would be platinum.

She also touched on the 75-year-old Patterson's "big mouth," his tendency to joke about almost anything and his oft-professed love of sprawl.

Patterson has a reputation as a tough guy, but Williams relates a story that suggests he has a compassionate side, writing he gave his personal cell number to an Oakland County municipal employee, who,  like Patterson, had lost a child then suffered a debilitating injury.  "There's never a good day, but some days are not quite as bad as others," Patterson tells the woman.

Despite what Patterson says about Detroit in the New Yorker, in Sunday's Detroit Free Press -- coincidentally or not -- he wrote a column about the importance of saving the Detroit Institute of Arts during the bankruptcy process. 

Here are highlights from the article that touch upon the relationship between Patterson and Detroit:

* "Oakland County embodies fiscal success as much as Detroit does financial ruin, and Patterson, the county executive, tends to behave as though his chief job in life were to never let anyone forget it."

* One week in September, he gave me an extended tour of his empire, in a chauffeured minivan. Near the end of the first day, we headed toward Lake St. Clair, at the mouth of the Detroit River, for a party on a yacht. Patterson sat in the front passenger seat. Over his shoulder, he said, “Anytime I talk about Detroit, it will not be positive. Therefore, I’m called a Detroit basher. The truth hurts, you know? Tough shit.”

* Patterson told me, “I used to say to my kids, ‘First of all, there’s no reason for you to go to Detroit. We’ve got restaurants out here.’ They don’t even have movie theatres in Detroit—not one.” He went on, “I can’t imagine finding something in Detroit that we don’t have in spades here. Except for live sports. We don’t have baseball, football. For that, fine—get in and get out. But park right next to the venue—spend the extra twenty or thirty bucks. And, before you go to Detroit, you get your gas out here. You do not, do not, under any circumstances, stop in Detroit at a gas station! That’s just a call for a carjacking.” 

* When I asked him how Detroit might fix its financial problems, he said, "I made a prediction a long time ago, and it's come to pass. I said, 'What we're going to do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, an then throw in the blankets and corn.'"

* At a retirement roast of an employee who had moved to Louisville, Patterson joked, "Mike told me when he went to the Kentucky Derby, he saw a bumper sticker that said, 'I miss Detroit.' So he broke the window, stole the radio and left a note that said, 'I hope this cures your homesickness.'"

* "A promotional infographic currently used to recruit multinational companies situates Oakland County relative only to Chicago, Cleveland, Toronto and New York. Detroit isn't on the map."

* Patterson told Williams it is "too late" for a Detroit turnaround.

UPDATE: Bill Mullan, a spokesman for Patterson, issued the following statement concerning the New Yorker profile.

“It is clear Paige Williams had an agenda when she interviewed County Executive Patterson. She cast him in a false light in order to fit her preconceived and outdated notions about the region. Mr. Patterson’s record on advancing regional issues in a transparent and responsible manner is unparalleled. His initiatives – including such as Automation Alley, the regional law enforcement management system CLEMIS, and his leadership on the Cobo Authority – have had a highly positive and nationally recognized impact on the region.”

Mullan did not say Patterson was misquoted.

Disclosure: One of the people quoted in the article is Deadline Detroit co-founder Bill McGraw, who notes Patterson's long history of criticizing Detroit. 

Read more:  The New Yorker

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