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Oakland County Executive Patterson has cancer, won't seek 8th term

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has stage four pancreatic cancer, but plans to stay in office through the end of his term while seeking treatment.

Patterson made that announcement at an emotional news conference at the county building named after him on Tuesday. He also announced that he won’t run for an eighth term in 2020.

Patterson knows he has slim odds of beating his cancer diagnosis, but he’s not giving up.

“There’s an 11 percent chance that we who have it walk away. And I intend to be part of that 11 percent,” Patterson said. “Hopefully that’s my reputation; I am strong enough and committed enough to go into the fight and want to finish it.”

Patterson, an 80-year-old Republican, is a political institution in Oakland County and a divisive figure in Metro Detroit. He first made his name in the early 1970s as a lawyer who fought attempts to racially integrate Pontiac schools.

In 1973, Patterson became county prosecutor. He’s been county executive since 1993.

“They’re both great jobs that anybody would die for,” Patterson said, adding to laughter: “No, I shouldn’t have said that.”

In more recent years, Patterson has become known for keeping Oakland County government fiscally sound with long-term budgetary planning. He’s fought against some efforts build up more regional systems across Metro Detroit, such as the Great Lakes Water Authority and more extensive public transportation.And he’s been aggressive about seeking more business investment, particularly foreign investment, in Oakland County.

Patterson is perhaps best known for his pull-no-punches style in speech and politics, mixed with a sometimes caustic sense of humor. He’s repeatedly made some incendiary comments about the city of Detroit, comments that he repeated in spades in a 2014 profile.

After a serious car accident in 2012, Patterson also become a fierce opponent of undoing Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance system, with its unlimited coverage for catastrophic medical costs.

Patterson said he intends to keep fighting to preserve that coverage, countering a push for wide-ranging changes in Lansing.

“I feel strongly that protects millions of people in this state,” Patterson said. “I think that’s being deliberately misconstrued and trying to make it out to be something it’s not, and I intend to wrap that one up this year while I’ve still got the energy to do it.”

Patterson says his chief longtime deputy, Gerald Poisson, will step in for him to make sure county operations run smoothly as he undergoes treatment. If Patterson were to die or step down before his current term expires, Poisson would temporarily hold the seat until the county board of commissioners appoints a successor or calls a special election.

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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