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Syrian refugees the target of "inflammatory" polling call in Oakland County Executive race

Newly-arrived Syrian refugees in Oakland County
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Newly-arrived Syrian refugees in Oakland County, September 2015.

The question of Syrian refugee resettlement has reared its head in the Oakland County Executive’s race--in an ugly and disputed way.

Some Oakland County residents reported getting a polling call on Sunday, September 11th.

They included Vicki Barnett, the Democrat running for Oakland County Executive. She faces longtime Republican incumbent L. Brooks Patterson.

One of the questions accused Syrian refugees of committing numerous rapes and murders in Europe.

It went on to stress Patterson’s opposition to a now-scrapped project that would have re-settled some Syrian refugees in an abandoned Pontiac school, before asking if the voter was “more or less likely to support” a candidate who favored “allowing” Syrian refugees into Oakland County.

Barnett took to social media to blast Patterson for the call.

“I'm disgusted beyond words,” Barnett wrote on Facebook. “This kind of bigotry is an embarrassment to Oakland County residents and insulting to those who were injured and lost their lives on this day in 2001!

“Finally, it is disrespectful of victims of terror and war who were forced to flee their homeland and want nothing more than to protect their loved ones and raise their children in peace.”

Patterson did oppose the now-scrapped housing plans for refugees in Pontiac, calling them an “imminent threat.”

However, Patterson denies having anything to do with the push poll.

“The shameful polling call made on 9/11 using County Executive Patterson’s name was clearly designed to inflame emotions on one of America’s most solemn days,” said a statement released by Patterson spokesman Bill Mullan.

“Neither the L. Brooks Patterson campaign nor the Oakland County Republican Party authorized or paid for such a survey. We believe it was a carefully calculated dirty trick engineered by the democrats” [sic].

The statement went on to say that “Oakland County democrats have proven they are willing to commit crimes to manipulate the outcome of an election,” and noted that Barnett hosted  a campaign fundraiser while Patterson attended 9/11 remembrance ceremonies

Barnett responded that she got the call after returning from a 9/11 memorial event herself. She said neither her campaign nor county Democrats had anything to do with it.

“No Democrat that I know has ever talked about Syrian refugee in the inflammatory way…that Brooks Patterson has,” Barnett said. “I find it disgusting that the Republican Party continually wants to demonize an entire class of people with no proof.”

While the Pontiac plans were scrapped in the face of public opposition, Syrian refugees continue to settle in Michigan more than any other state. State and local officials have little say over refugee resettlement, which is determined by the federal government and largely implemented by non-profit social service agencies.

Many of those refugees have clustered in parts of Metro Detroit, including Oakland County communities like Troy, West Bloomfield and Farmington.  

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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