Double the pleasure, double the standard

BY JOHN HONKALA: TOO EARLY IN THE SUN

Published June 8, 2003

Imagine a powerful, high-ranking public official from Detroit notorious for his penchant to have a few too many cold ones. In fact, let's say that penchant has earned that prominent official a citation for driving under the influence and the embarrassment of stranding a city car on some deserted Delray railroad tracks after a night on the bottle. And let's say this fellow is not shy about his drinking and prefers to joke about it with his "posse" of city wags and buddies in the press. Let's also assume this black Democrat has wiggled his way out of a few other alcohol-related scraps that none of us know about. Imagine this badass elected official has no problem boozing it up with his boys and bragging about getting kicked out of restaurants.

J. Brady McCollough

If there really were such a man, you can bet that beyond the kneejerk Coleman Young comparisons this man would be dragged through the mud by the media and most of Michigan's suburban populace, and that a recall vote would be shortly forthcoming. Not that he wouldn't deserve it; that sort of behavior is simply unacceptable from an elected official.

But now let's change Detroit to Oakland County, Delray to Pontiac and black Democrat to white Republican. One would hope that our reaction wouldn't change, that we wouldn't look the other way and chalk up those actions to the man's "irreverence" and "color." Sadly, that's precisely the reaction that Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson's latest brush with the law is getting. He was caught again last Monday night, weaving all over the road in his county-owned Cadillac.

My favorite part about this is that Patterson is trying to explain this away by claiming he made the mistake of mixing painkillers with alcohol. Oh really? A mistake? Now, I'm not saying that Brooksie likes to mix his downers, but then again you'd have to be living in a hole not to realize that mixing the two is going to give you one hell of a buzz. Sounds to me like he's got a bit of a drinking problem (for which he should seek help) and one big fat ego (for which he should also seek help).

Lucky for Patterson, the friendly police officers on the scene gave him a lift home and called it a night. But unfortunately for the rest of us, all of the above - the restaurant behavior, the DUI, the railroad tracks - all happened to Patterson. Yet, he remains in office unsullied by scandals that would ruin the careers of other men.

Meanwhile, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick finds himself embroiled in a scandal that is quickly turning him into a cross between ex-Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and Tupac Shakur. What Kilpatrick did - firing the deputy chief heading an investigation of a party the mayor allegedly threw at the Manoogian Mansion - was just plain stupid. We should know what really happened. But unlike Patterson's latest brush with the law (which by the way actually endangered other people's lives), Kilpatrick's misconduct is a) alleged, and b) being blown so far out of proportion that the scandal is threatening to further taint Detroit's already infected national reputation. He has been called a "thug" and an embarrassment to the city. Kilpatrick will survive, but his reputation may not.

The difference here is that Patterson doesn't have a so-called posse (ie. big black friends) or a diamond earring. He isn't from Detroit, and most of all he's not black, he's white. Sure he gets his fair share of tsk tsks and head shakes, but he throws in a one-liner about his golf swing and everything is okay. Patterson, they say, can joke his way out of anything.

Well, I for one am not laughing. Say what you will about Kwame's alleged misconduct, but I'd take a Manoogian Mansion party any day over a repeat drunken driver tooling around suburban streets in a tax-funded Cadillac.

Forgive me if I'm making this too simple. But from here, I see a white man with a history of drunkenly misbehaving, breaking the law and endangering others getting described as "colorful." Meanwhile, Detroit's black mayor is being dragged through the mud and called "thuggish." You can't pretend that something's not afoul there.

Honkala can be reached at jhonkala@umich.edu.