L. Brooks Patterson, who led Oakland County for a generation as county executive, died on Saturday; he was 80 years old. In March, he announced that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
A Republican who held the office of county executive for 26 years, Patterson was known for his pro-business policies and for disparaging Detroit, the city where he grew up and got both his primary and college education. He also regularly thwarted efforts at regionalism, most recently by throwing a wrench into regional transit.
Under his watch, Oakland County remained one of the wealthiest counties in the country—it earned AAA bond ratings for 20 straight years.
But he also faced numerous charges of racism for the constant mudslinging he directed towards Detroit. In a 2014 profile in the New Yorker, Patterson 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.’”
A number of local politicians have weighed in on his passing, most praising him or acknowledging his immense influence over the years. Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, for example, said…
I’m saddened by the passing of Brooks Patterson. You never had to wonder where you stood with Brooks, and I always appreciated that. He had the uncanny ability to make you laugh, even when you completely disagreed with what he was saying, and we disagreed plenty. But we worked well together because we understood and respected each other. He fought for what he believed was best for his county every single day.
His impact on the region was undeniable. Later this week, we’ll have more on what new leadership will mean for the county and regionalism.