The writer’s latest book, “SH*TSHOW,” comes out May 22.
By Charlie LeDuff
Lewis Brooks Patterson says he will retire on Dec. 31, 2020. He will take his belongings, his 40l(k) and wheel himself home to his suburban condominium where he will watch his grandchildren play from his deck.
“Seven terms as the Oakland County Executive is enough,” he told me the other evening at a restaurant on the northern edge of the county, fresh from a political chicken dinner where he received a standing ovation. “I don’t want to be carried out on my shield wearing a dirty diaper. There’s nothing glorious about that.”
With reelection worries out of the way, Patterson, sharp and clear-eyed at 79, decided to uncork the concealments of regional politics and the Detroit comeback narrative as though they were a frothy bottle of Spumante.
The rupture in decorum comes from the rejection of a proposed $5.4 billion regional tax on city and suburban homeowners for a thinly thought through mass transportation project by both Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.“Mike Duggan is a creep,” he says casually over a tumbler of whiskey and water. “The collegiality is gone because Mike’s on the muscle and I’m not going to give him the money. Screw you.”
Subsidizing the City
Their reasons for blocking the ballot initiative are numerous: the counties will subsidize the city yet again. There are more outstanding priorities such as repairing the crumbling roads. And voters already rejected a cheaper version of the plan two years ago. (The latest plan is a 25% millage hike above and beyond the old plan.)
The push back came swiftly from the downtown monied class. Duggan insinuated that Patterson had been dishonest when he backed away from his promised backing of the plan. Political commentators piled on, characterizing Patterson as old and out of touch; a coward and a racist. CEO’s from 23 companies wrote an open letter saying it was “past time to get going” on regional transit, while not bothering to send the letter to the suburban leaders themselves.
“Gerry Anderson over at DTE is now going to tell us how to do transit,” Patterson snorted into his ice cubes. “I said he ought to concentrate on getting 260,000 customers power back on.”
Indisputably, Patterson knows how to manage money. Oakland County is operating in the black, owns a AAA bond rating and has no looming pension cliff. So, when it’s all said and done, Patterson does not trust Detroit with its hand in the till.
“They tell us Amazon is not coming because we don’t have mass transit,” he said. “I never heard Amazon say that. Gilbert makes Amazon an offer with the taxpayer’s money, but the taxpayer is not entitled to know the specifics? That’s the government down there.”
Then there is the failing Qline streetcar that runs a 3.3 mile circle from downtown to midtown that isn’t attracting enough riders to pay for itself despite assurances that there would be. Hidden in the latest transit deal is the idea that the operating costs will be foisted upon the regional homeowner. “And now they want a train from Detroit to Ann Arbor,” he said. “Fine. But don’t build your f****** dreams off Oakland County.”
Lacking Straight Numbers
He complained bitterly about the shenanigans at the newly created regional Great Lakes Water Authority, where legal settlements against the Detroit water department were cut behind closed doors and passed off to the suburban ratepayers without their knowledge. “Can’t get a straight number out of them.”
Then there are Duggan’s mishandling of the federal demolition dollars and the subsequent and on-going federal investigation, Patterson reminded. “Who said it? Coleman Young Jr.? ‘Wherever Mike Duggan goes, a grand jury follows.'”
Add in fact the suburban home owner helps subsidize the Detroit Zoo, DIA, the DPS bailout, Cobo Hall and the regional SMART bus system, which Detroit uses but refuses to pay for.
“We are tired of being donor communities,” said Hackel, when reached by telephone. “The priorities are roads and talent attraction. That’s my RTA.”
An official with the RTA was intrigued to learn that Patterson will not be seeking re-election, sensing a strategy that could be hatched to take advantage of the fact that the lame-duck executive is denying his people a right to vote (Oakland County narrowly rejected the first transit plan in 2016) while he plans to sip mint juleps on his porch, while readjusting the transit plan to throw some road repair money Macomb County’s way.
“They don’t understand Brooks Patterson,” said Brooks Patterson. “The more you challenge him, the deeper I dig my heals in. I swear to God that’s what’s going to happen. They’re not going to win this fight. My vote is No.”