One Last Word About L. Brooks Patterson And Indian Reservations

January 22, 2014, 7:16 AM by  Bill McGraw

As Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson slowly emerges from his bunker – the word he used on WJR Tuesday – to explain why he repeatedly kicked Detroit while it is down in the New Yorker article, he has paid a lot of attention to the quote in which he talks about turning Detroit into an Indian reservation, “where we herd all the Indians into the city…”

And for good reason. Of all the ugly things Patterson says about Detroit in the article, it’s probably the most insidious. 

In various interviews, Patterson complains the quote is 25 years old, and says the author recycled it. He asked WJR’s Frank Beckmann, “When does the statute of limitations run” out?

Patterson’s explanation might make sense to listeners, but few metro Detroiters have read the article because it sits behind a pay wall on the New Yorker’s website. The printed issue of this week’s magazine hadn’t reached many local subscribers by Tuesday.

So let’s look at the entire quote.

The author, Paige Williams, writes:

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

“When I asked him how Detroit might solve its financial problems, he said..."

Williams asked a straightforward question about Detroit's finances and Patterson answered by talking about an Indian reservation. The question was asked and answered in September 2013, not 25 or 30 years ago.

Patterson, whose managerial success in 21 years of running Oakland County is described in great detail in the article, could have chosen any number of responses to a question about his specialty -- municipal finance. He could have talked about ending pensions for 401(k) plans. He could have talked about outsourcing. He could have talked about how he does budgets.

But he chose to answer with a version of a demeaning analogy that he has repeated over the years about his neighbor to the south. He was the one who recycled that quote, not Williams.

Why, when Patterson had the chance to expound at length about the region to the elite audience of one of the nation’s most prestigious magazines, did he choose to come across like a mean-spirited boor? What does that say to the New Yorker’s readers about Patterson, and what does it say about Oakland County?

In comparing Detroit to an Indian reservation, Patterson told interviewers Tuesday he was trying to discuss the problem of people who become dependent on government aid. That’s a legitimate issue; why not use those words, instead of glibly talking about how “we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn?”

Patterson is 75. He has been in public office 37 years. The New Yorker article could have been his moment to shine. It could have been an international platform from which metro Detroit's elder statesman proclaims the glory of Oakland County and all of southeast Michigan, and readers would have marveled over the clever, successful, high-minded policy wizard that is L. Brooks Patterson.

Instead, Patterson comes across as a small-minded Babbitt. He turned the article into another example of his serial churlishness.

Patterson’s record is clear. Even when he is winning, he can’t stop himself from beating up on his struggling neighbor. The New Yorker profile cemented that legacy.

Previously on Deadline Detroit:


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