As Democrats celebrated election victories Tuesday in Michigan and across the country, the mood at the Emagine Royal Oak theater complex, where more than 200 Oakland County Republicans gathered, was a mixed bag.
That is, until L. Brooks Patterson, 73, changed the energy of room.
“He gave some remarks and then he told us he had a surprise for us – and then he stood up on his own,” said former Royal Oak Mayor Dennis Cowan. “Everyone burst into applause.”
Patterson, elected to his sixth term as Oakland County Executive on Nov. 6, was injured in a crash in August that left him hospitalized at McLaren Oakland Hospital in Pontiac for five weeks after suffering almost a dozen broken bones. He returned to work in October using a wheelchair and 50 pounds thinner.
“He’s our political leader,” said Cowan. “Everyone was happy to see him. For a lot of people, it was the first time they had seen him since his accident. I think he was feeding off our energy and we were feeding off of his.”
The county executive agreed.
“There was a lot of happiness in the room,” said Patterson, who is going through physical therapy. “I am re-teaching myself how to stand on my own again and walk.”
County demographics are changing
For Patterson, the joy of spending 90 minutes with supporters was mixed with disappointment after Republicans lost a couple of county seats. and Jim Nash, also a Democrat, replaces John McCulloch as Oakland County Water Commissioner.
“The county is changing. It used to be a safe Republican stronghold, but it won't be for much longer,” Patterson said. “I don’t mind people moving to Oakland County from Wayne County, but they are bringing their politics with them!"
Unofficial Oakland County election results show 53.41 percent of voters cast a straight party vote for Democrats on Election Day and 45.27 percent did the same for Republicans.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s loss was also a sting for county Republicans. Had he won, Romney would not only have been the first president born in Michigan (Gerald Ford was born in Nebraska), but the first to be raised in Oakland County.
“I think he would have made a good president, but we will never know,” Patterson said.
President Barack Obama got 53.40 percent of the vote in Oakland County to Romney’s 45.37 percent.
New surprises ahead
Now that voters have re-elected Patterson, the county executive may have more surprises in store for Oakland County residents.
When Patterson physically returned to work in October, he held a press conference with his daughter Mary Warner, 36. Like her father, Warner is witty and has a gift for public speaking. Talking off the cuff to the media about her father’s accomplishments, she told reporters she believes there is a reason her father survived the crash.
There is something else he needs to do, she said.
“I do have a couple of programs floating around in my head,” Patterson said, though he did not elaborate. “My primary focus will be to get the economy back on its feet.”
Patterson said he is proud of Oakland County and the quality of life its residents enjoy. And, he’s proud of Warner, too.
“I tell her she has a future in politics if she wants it,” he said.