L. Brooks Patterson has spent decades successfully running the affluent county just north of Detroit, all the while making inflammatory comments about the city south of 8 Mile and his political peers. But the Republican Oakland County executive's latest remarks in the pages of a national magazine have caused considerable backlash.
In an an article called "Drop Dead, Detroit!" (only available in full for subscribers) in this week's issue of the New Yorker, Patterson is quoted warning author Paige Williams that he will never say positive things about Detroit.
“Anytime I talk about Detroit, it will not be positive. Therefore, I’m called a Detroit basher,” he said. ”The truth hurts, you know? Tough shit.”
The most confounding statement he makes in the article is in response to a question from Williams about how Detroit could solve its financial problems:
“I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass," Patterson says in the article. "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 the corn.’”
The remarks have offended Detroiters, including Mayor Mike Duggan, who appears in the article meeting with Patterson, an old friend, and speaks of the city's revival. He released a statement with Council President Brenda calling for an apology Tuesday. Charles E Williams II, president of the National Action Network's Michigan chapter, also denounced Patterson.
“These remarks are repulsive and racist," Williams said in a statement. "Not just because the City of Detroit is over 80 percent African American, but because it is also a direct slight to the American Indian who occupied the land before Detroit was Detroit and Oakland County was Oakland County."
In the New Yorker story, Patterson also said he used to tell his children not to go to the city and says that you never get gas in Detroit because it's "a call for a carjacking."
The author mischaracterized Patterson, his spokesman said in a Monday statement, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“She cast him in a false light in order to fit her preconceived and outdated notions about the region," the statement said. "Mr. Patterson’s record on advancing regional issues in a transparent and responsible manner is unparalleled."
In an interview with WJR's Paul W. Smith Tuesday, Patterson accused writer Paige Williams of using his comments from decades years ago to push for a response and said he's tried to shed his "Detroit basher" reputation.
On Tuesday, shortly after Duggan condemned his comments, Patterson issued another statement.
“I regret that something I said 30 years ago is causing such consternation today," he said. "I have worked hard to build good relationships with some of the past mayors of Detroit. I do not intend for The New Yorker article to damage my relationship with Mayor Duggan and I look forward to working with him over the next four years."
Patterson's clashes with Coleman Young, Detroit's first black mayor, are locally famous. When Young died, Patterson remembered him by saying he was "singly responsible for the demise of Detroit."
He also sparred with Dave Bing, who left his mayoral post in December, saying Detroit was trying to steal business from Oakland County.
Deadline Detroit notes that Patterson made the analogy about Detroit as an Indian reservation years ago, when talking to author Zev Chafets in 1989 for the book Devil's Night and Other True Tales of Detroit. In that earlier interview, Patterson, then the Oakland County prosecutor, had an even more negative view of Detroit and its residents.
"In this county, robbery is a crime," Chafets records him saying in the book. "In Detroit, it's an occupation. It's warfare in the city, it absolutely is. A baby born in Detroit has a bigger statistical chance of being killed than a soldier in World War Two. I'd call in the National Guard."
"Is there hatred between us and them?" Patterson continued. "Okay, I don't deny it."