L. Brooks Patterson: Passing of a Controversial MI Republican Icon


After a colorful lifetime leading the GOP stronghold on Detroit’s doorstep, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 80.

Dingell: “Always ahead of the curve”

“Brooksie was a dynamic force into his 50’s,” John D. Dingell, III told The Michigan Star. “He then diminished, possibly because his longtime adversary Coleman Young faded.”

“His wicked wit flared occasionally after he focused on administration, but only rarely.” Dingell observed that administration changed Patterson. “His focus changed from ideas to execution.”

“Oakland County is the best run large unit of government in Michigan. Better even than the state government,” says the eldest son of the late congressman. “Brooksie was always ahead of the curve.”


As a Republican whose jurisdiction overlapped metro Detroit, Patterson didn’t just face controversy from the town where he grew up. It was his weapon of choice.

Early on, Patterson opposed forced busing from Detroit’s massive school district to 53 outlying school districts. The US Supreme Court overturned the NAACP-brought suit in Milliken v. Bradley, clarifying that applying Brown v. Board of Education required intent of segregation, and reaffirming the importance of local control over schools.

Battling headlines after his death indicate that controversy over the 1974 decision lives on in Michigan.

“RIP L. Brooks Patterson, a Racist,” runs Detroit’s Metro Times banner. The article expands, “The man was a racist, and contributed mightily to metro Detroit’s segregation problem.”

“Patterson a racist? Not Even Close, Says Ballenger,” came back the author of The Ballenger Report.

The former state representative and political pundit went on to tell the Detroit News, “For a half-century, Brooks Patterson, despite never holding statewide office, has been the most prominent person in Michigan politics, with the possible exception of (former Detroit mayor) Coleman Young.”

Patterson served four terms as County Prosecutor (1973 -1989) and seven terms as County Executive, from 1992 until his death on August 3.

“Adolf Bolger, You Mean?”

Patterson memorably drove home his objection to a fellow Republican with a very public reference to “Adolf Bolger” in 2013.

The MI House Speaker and a committee chairman had excluded testimony from Patterson’s deputy opposing a change in Michigan’s no-fault insurance.

Patterson: “Trump could be another Reagan”

Patterson was ahead of the curve in seeing President Trump’s win. “He reached the people, he tapped into the unrest of the people with the establishment,” he told WXYZ-TV Detroit. “What we call the silent majority had just had it up to here with all the stuff that’s going on in government today. It didn’t surprise me to see them go for Trump.”

“I think he could turn out to be another Reagan,” Patterson said.

With Patterson’s death, Oakland County Chief Deputy County Executive Gerald Poisson is acting as current executive. The Board of Commissioners has 30 days to determine whether to hold a special election or choose a successor to compete Patterson’s term.

The Detroit News reports that Patterson is survived by his son Dr. Dayne (Heather) Rogers of Davisburg; daughters Mary (Gary) Warner of Clarkston and Shawn Sutherland of Waterford, daughter-in-law Jessie (Charlie) Damavoletes of Waterford; former wife Kathy (Bruce) Patterson of Clarkston; 11 grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews. Patterson had three close relatives — a twin brother Stephen; sister Harriett Hayden; and nephew Timothy Hayden — who all died of cancer.

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Abigail Nobel is a reporter for The Michigan Star.




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