The Arrogance of Power—The Corrupt Mayor of Motown

I usually don’t stray into strictly political issues, but today’s action by the Mayor of Detroit has me fuming. I’ve been avoiding blogging on this topic, but Kwame Kilpatrick always has a new criminal exploit fueled by his overwhelming arrogance. His latest idiocy will land him in jail for the night. Here’s the basic story.

Kilpatrick is a bright and imposing young man (elected at 31) who had an unlimited political future. Detroit has a long history of producing brilliant African American political leaders, and Kilpatrick comes out of this tradition. His mother is Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick is chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and his father was also deeply involved in local politics. He is a law school graduate, a former college athlete, and a former state representative. His youth and charisma have allowed him to communicate to both young and old citizens of Detroit and his constituents have been reluctant to turn against him. The mayor is deeply involved in a scandal that has resulted in felony charges and left the already struggling city effectively leaderless. By all accounts Kilpatrick is a very smart guy; how did he get himself into this mess?

This is the outline. There was, allegedly, a big party at the Mayor’s residence a few years ago that involved strippers and other morally and legally questionable activity. When the police department’s internal affairs division attempted to investigate, two officers were fired, and successfully sued the city for wrongful termination. The settlement was being negotiated by an unrepentant and angry mayor, when an 8 million dollar payout to the fired cops was suddenly approved.

It turned out that the mayor, who had vigorously denied an affair with his chief of staff during the trial, had used a city-owned device to send explicit and revealing test messages to his chief. In a scene right out of a bad movie, an envelope containing the transcripts of these messages was was shown to the mayor and his attorney during the fight over the settlement, leading to the immediate capitulation of the city.

The mayor’s perjury has led to felony charges. But it gets even better.

The mayor isn’t just any accused felon—-he is the mayor of one of the largest cities in the U.S., and one that is failing. He has a big job to do. He argued somewhat successfully to be allowed to travel under certain circumstances on city business. He made one trip without court approval. He then physically assaulted an officer of the court trying to deliver a subpoena. His bond was revoked and received several stern rebukes from the judge in the case but he was still given special consideration and allowed to remain free.

Yesterday, the Mayor once again left town without informing the court, but this time he actually left the country to visit our neighboring city of Windsor, Ontario. The judge was furious, and ordered him remanded to the jail.

So Detroit’s mayor is going to jail tonight. How does a brilliant career end with a night in jail?

All of his behaviors speak to an arrogance that comes with power. One of the ironies is that Detroit is impoverished. When the Mayor of a wealthy city is corrupt, the city often does just fine, but with a city like Detroit, well, we need all the help we can get. The people of Detroit gave this promising young man a chance to help them. He has repaid them with scorn and disrespect. The city can’t afford to run a recall campaign and it would be politically unwise for Michigan’s governor to remove him, so the city is stuck with him for now. Given the level of arrogance he has so far displayed, it seems unlikely he will give Detroiters what they really need: a resignation.