Patterson has ‘career-ending’ cancer, won’t run in 2020

    Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson speaks at 2014 press conference for Proposal 1 | Michigan Municipal League photo, Flickr

    Longtime Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced Tuesday that he has “career-ending” stage 4 pancreatic cancer and will not be seeking an eighth term.

    Patterson, 80, has been in poor health since a 2012 automobile accident in which he was seriously injured. He said he intends to serve out the remainder of his seventh term, to which he was elected in 2016 after defeating Democratic former state Rep. Vicki Barnett.

    L. Brooks Patterson

    “This is not a goodbye,” Patterson said according to the Detroit Free Press. “I have every intention of coming back and finishing out the term.”

    Tuesday’s announcement follows widespread speculation that he would not seek an eighth term as executive. In December, he said he would not step down, even though it was the last chance for a GOP-controlled county commission to appoint a successor, as Democrats won a majority in the 2018 election.

    Oakland County has steadily trended Democratic over the last few decades. However, that shift didn’t prevent Patterson from defeating his Democratic opponent by 7 points in a year in which that party’s presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, carried the county by 8 points.

    Oakland County Clerk Andy Meisner, a Democrat, announced his intention to run for the seat in March. He and county board Chair Dave Woodward, who also is expected to seek the Democratic nomination, both wished Patterson well in separate Facebook posts.

    “[Patterson’s] leadership has impacted nearly every element of our region,” wrote Meisner. “I stand ready to help him steward the County in the coming months and wish him peace and comfort.”

    “Despite political differences over the years, like just about everyone in Oakland County, I respect L. Brooks Patterson’s tremendous capacity to hang tough and give back as good as he gets,” wrote Woodward, adding “we are all in with him on this one.”

    Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard has been widely rumored as a Republican successor to Patterson. Bouchard, a former state senator, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2006 against current Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing). In 2010, he lost a crowded GOP gubernatorial primary to eventual Gov. Rick Snyder.

    Former U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester), who unsuccessfully ran for county prosecutor in 2012, also has been mentioned as a potential GOP contender.

    Mike Bouchard | Twitter

    Patterson’s career in Oakland County politics spans half a century, dating back to his time as county prosecutor in the 1970s and 1980s, when he was known for his flamboyant personality and hard-line conservatism. That came after he garnered significant attention representing a group fighting busing for racial integration.

    Patterson unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1982, losing the GOP nomination to Dick Headlee, for which Michigan’s tax-limit amendment is named. Democrat Jim Blanchard won the general election.

    He was elected Oakland County executive in 1992. Later in his tenure, he was widely criticized for comments he made in a New Yorker profile about the city of Detroit, including his long-standing desire to turn the city 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.”

    “The truth hurts, you know?” Patterson explained with typical brusqueness. “Tough shit.”

    Derek Robertson
    Derek Robertson is a former associate editor of the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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