L. Brooks Patterson relishes the kind of controversy the New Yorker article titled "Drop Dead, Detroit" delivered today.
His career was made by the kind of quips that cause headlines. In this instance though, a couple of famous old quotes come to mind.
First comes from baseball great Babe Ruth who said “it’s not bragging if you can really do it.” The entire point of the piece is that Oakland County is among the best run in the country, Patterson was at the helm for that and unapologetic about that success.
Paige Williams’ bias comes through in the piece loud and clear that Oakland County exists on the bones of Detroit and that the City, majestic in its past, made Oakland County’s success. That Oakland County rose at all is somehow tainted.
Patterson, of course, does not see it that way. He sees a government that is forward looking, forward thinking, attractive to business, a great place to live and, more than anything, doing everything financially correct as it sits on a $200 million surplus.
When surveying the wreckage that is the City of Detroit in bankruptcy, Patterson cannot help himself in crowing about the differences between management styles. He makes it clear deficit spending and anti-business policies are the bane of a municipality’s existence and Detroit is exhibit a for that kind. Because Detroit took three generations to go from nearly first to worst gave him ample opportunity to comment on the steady decline along the way.
In the aftermath of the New Yorker article, the problem Patterson is up against is the same one Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman finds himself embroiled in as well. Sherman made the play of the game and he is off to the Super Bowl. But he just couldn’t resist doing not one but half a dozen interviews where he slammed 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree, calling him mediocre and displaying the kind of sportsmanship that will solidify his reputation nationally. Sherman was a hero until he opened his mouth. Patterson has been doing the same thing for years, but this time it’s on display for the entire nation to see.
This is where the second quote comes in: Sam Clemens [better known as Mark Twain] said: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."
Any psychologist will tell you your greatest strength is often also your greatest weakness. This is the double edged sword L. Brooks wields. He is as affable and funny a man as you will ever meet and is capable of making a joke about pretty much anything. Then again, many of the things he says rub many -- particularly Detroit residents -- entirely the wrong way in a fashion that makes him look bad minimally; like a racist at worst. L. Brooks knows this and is not interested in worrying about Detroiter’s feelings; they don’t vote for him.
He said as much in the article: “I don’t work for Detroit -- they don’t sign my paycheck .. the residents out there know I’m hardworking and I’m honest. Yeah, I sometimes say things that make people cringe ... I can get away with it because me and my team, we’re good at what we do. People are gonna forgive my peccadilloes because we’re the best-managed county in America.”
Williams quoted Paul Tait, the executive director of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments: “The Oaklanders are very confident, almost to the point of arrogance. Wait, not ‘almost’ -- often to the point of arrogance but more often than not they’re right."
So here stand L. Brooks Patterson and Richard Sherman, proclaiming their greatness for all to hear. I’m reminded of another great sage, my mother Anne Meloni: "If you don’t have anything good to say, say nothing at all."