Billboard Has Civil Rights Leader Up In Arms

By Carol Cain – Senior Producer and Host of WWJ-TV CBS Detroit Michigan Matters 

It’s great that Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson is supporting Detroit by appearing in the new “I’m a Believer” ad campaign touting the Motor City along with other community leaders.

believer patterson Billboard Has Civil Rights Leader Up In Arms

The billboard is located on 6 Mile Rd. in Detroit, Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of Detroit chapter of NAACP's neighborhood and has the civil rights leader up in arms. (credit:

But don’t expect Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, to stand up and cheer the new billboard in his neighborhood featuring the suburban county exec.

“If you are a believer, have some politics that work for Detroit,” Anthony said of Patterson during taping of Michigan Matters which aired on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit. “What you say and what you do are not the same.”

The “I’m a Believer” campaign was launched last month by Sandy Hermanoff and Paige Curtis as a public service effort to talk up the city.

Over 25 regional leaders donated their time and faces to be part of the campaign including Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Macomb’s Mark Hackel. The campaign includes 44 billboards and numerous TV and radio spots.

But it is the billboard with Patterson on Six Mile Road near his home that has raised the ire of the civil rights leader.

Patterson, “wants to take the (city’s) water system and didn’t want to deal with Cobo (Center) and stood in the door talking how not to have cross district busing. And then you put him on Six Mile? Where are the community people? People who have never abandoned Detroit. They do believe in Detroit,” said Anthony.

“I’m glad he did it, but show me others,” added the civil rights leader.

Patterson, who appeared on the show with Denise Ilitch and Doug Rothwell, of the Business Leaders For Michigan, took exception to what Anthony said.

“I knew (when the campaign came up) I’d be damned if I did it and damned if I didn’t do it,” said Patterson who has sometimes found himself in the crosshairs of city vs. suburb debate over things like Cobo Center and the city’s water department.

Patterson, who was born in Detroit, went to school and taught in Detroit before moving to Oakland as a young adult, said he represents his constituents. He added he has also been a strong regional player along the way.

No doubt, it was a client Patterson, then in private practice, represented in the 1970s against forced busing that gained headlines and still resonates with some.

“Wendell, that was 40 years ago. Get over it!” said Patterson. “Never mind most people supported me at the time and today no where is there forced busing. It was a social experiment that failed.”

On other issues, Anthony talked of “poli-tricks” of those who criticized his leadership of the NAACP’s largest chapter.

“It has been that way since I first ran in 1993,” said Anthony who just started his 10th term. “God bless them. The fact is we paid our dues and are current (with the national chapter) .”

Just as the city, auto companies, state and school system, the Detroit chapter took some economic hits, “but we have managed to succeed and sometimes success breeds contempt,” Anthony added.

When asked about the state of race relations in Detroit and asked if they are better, Anthony said: “It depends on who you talk to. In some ways yes and many others no. There is still room for improvement.”

On a personal side, Anthony said he and wife, Monica, are expecting their first child in June.

On other topics, Rothwell, who headed up Gov. Rick Snyder’s transition team, said he expected to hear decisive steps Thursday when Snyder reveals his budget and tax plans to confront the deficit.

“If he doesn’t want to raise taxes, there are going to have to be some bombs in there,” said Patterson. “Some sacred cows are going to be slaughtered. All will be impacted, cities, villages, schools. All of us.”

Finally, the panel talked of another Detroit ad stirring headlines — Chrysler’s Super Bowl commercial with Eminem. That two minute commercial also aired during the 53rd annual Grammy’s on CBS.

“It was a gutsy ad,” said Ilitch, whose family owns the Fox Theatre where a portion of the Chrysler spot was filmed.

Patterson said the agency behind it (Wieden+Kennedy of Portland) should take a bow “people are still taking about it a week after.”

Rothwell added: “The Chrysler ad really struck a chord because it was so authentic about Detroit. But as much as Eminem was cool in it, can you imagine if it were Brooks?!”

Carol Cain hosts “Michigan Matters,” airing 11 a.m. Saturdays on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit. You can read her columns on politics and business in the Sunday’s Free Press. She can be reached at 248-355-7126 or via e-mail

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