Lawrence, Patterson Clash in Oakland County Exec. Race

By thauckthauck (1224795941|%a, %b %e at %I:%M%p)

This article ran in the Northville Record and it details a debate between the two candidates for Oakland County Executive: incumbent L. Brooks Patterson and Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawerance. The two square off on a number of issues, including Brooks' reluctance to get behind a regional transit plan. Interesting to note that transit is becoming such a hotly contested part of Metro Detroit politics.

When L. Brooks Patterson went to a Detroit Tigers baseball game a couple of years back, he was approached by a panhandler.

"Mr. Patterson, can you spare a dollar?"

That kind of name recognition is just one advantage Patterson enjoys going into the Nov. 4 election seeking his fifth consecutive term as Oakland County \ executive.

But name recognition and advantages of the incumbency haven't deterred challenger Brenda Lawrence, the twice-elected mayor of Southfield, who insists leadership in the state's wealthiest county has grown "tired" and ineffective.

"Oakland County is ready for change," Lawrence says repeatedly as she tries to convince voters she has the ideas, energy and leadership needed for Oakland to be successful in an increasingly diverse and changing world.

Lawrence repeated that charge during a recent debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters-Oakland Area. It will be broadcast on cable channels throughout the county, according to league President Eva Packard.

Lawrence and Patterson will square off a second time at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 at Walsh College. "It's not a debate," said Michele Hodges of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring the event. "It's more of a joint discussion."

Patterson is running on his record, which he characterized as 16 years of growth and achievement. During that time, he said, more than 25,000 new jobs have been created with the help of initiatives such as Automation Alley and the Oakland County Emerging Sectors Program. Over the last four years, the Emerging Sectors Program has encouraged 96 companies to build or expand in Oakland County, generating $1.1 billion in investment and $25 million in tax revenue, according to economic development officials.

The county's AAA bond rating, the executive said, speaks to the county being financially sound and efficiently managed with an annual budget of $742 million.

But Lawrence says the county - under Patterson's leadership - has lagged on important regional issues including mass transit and upgrading Cobo Hall in Detroit. Oakland has also failed to adequately address problems like home foreclosures, she said.

When Patterson counters that Cobo officials had not negotiated in good faith, Lawrence insists good leadership entails developing trust and cooperation to get results, "not walking away from the table."

Lawrence also accuses the county executive of abandoning economically stressed communities like Pontiac. "I would be embarrassed to have a county seat as distressed as Pontiac," she said during the debate.

Southfield should know about economic distress, Patterson countered. It has the highest property tax rate in the county, with one out of every 24 homes in foreclosure.

That was misleading - if not inaccurate information - Lawrence countered. "Shame on you, Mr. Patterson," she said.

In Southfield, home to several Fortune 200 companies, progress comes through joint cooperation, Lawrence said, like the partnership between Lawrence Technological University, Japanese businesses and the city to develop and use carbon-reinforced concrete for building more durable and long-lasting bridges and structures.

With these kinds of public-private partnerships, Southfield has emerged as a research center for an important technology, Lawrence insists. She notes the city's AA-plus bond status - one of the highest municipal ratings in the state - is an indicator of the city's financial stability and fiscal integrity.

In some ways, the race between Lawrence and Patterson mirrors the presidential contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. Both feature experienced Republicans running against vigorous, but less experienced, Democrats.

Patterson said Republicans were hurt when McCain announced he was pulling his campaign staff out of Michigan. Some "very good Republican candidates" will suffer because of that decision, he said.

Dennis Cowen, the GOP county chair, said Patterson himself may be the "firewall" that protects some Republican candidates who might have been left vulnerable when McCain bailed out of Michigan.

"Brooks did well in the debate," the former mayor of Royal Oak said, "and the polls show him leading Mayor Lawrence by a two to one margin. He and (Sheriff Michael) Bouchard will help the top of the ticket at the county level."

Lawrence said her chances were enhanced by the vigorous primary campaign between Obama and Hillary Clinton - and expectations of a large voter turnout.

"During the primary," she said, "the leading Democrats were a minority and a woman. And I'm both."

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