Detroit — First, let’s get the water-cooler questions out of the way. Will Detroit’s scandal-plagued mayor, the one-time Democratic prodigy Kwame Kilpatrick, ruin Democratic prodigy Barack Obama’s carefully orchestrated Denver convention by showing up?
No. Kilpatrick is currently before two different courts in two cases involving charges stemming from his alleged perjury in a city whistleblower lawsuit. The mayor, currently on a tether, has fought bond terms that have grounded him in Detroit and would prevent him from traveling to Denver as a superdelegate. A Detroit district court judge recently reaffirmed the travel restrictions and tether, however.
Second, will Kilpatrick’s problems hurt Obama’s efforts to win Michigan?
Unlikely. Though black turnout in Detroit is a key factor in the presumptive Democratic nominee’s strategy to defeat McCain in Michigan, the Kilpatrick machine (such as it is) has never been a big player in Obama’s campaign. As Detroit News reporter Gordon Trowbridge wrote recently, Kilpatrick “has never been particularly close to Obama. Unlike many African-American officials around the country, he did not endorse Obama until after the Illinois senator had clinched the Democratic nomination.”
Detroit political analyst Eric Foster also points to the 38-year-old Kilpatrick’s youth in concluding that he “is not Coleman Young” — a reference to Detroit’s former mayoral heavy who had built power and patronage over his many years in office.
Still, Democrats fear their perennial bogeyman under the bed: race. Republicans, they contend, will associate Obama with Kilpatrick here — putting them on the same ticket, as it were — in order to reinforce the alleged notion among voters that blacks cannot be trusted in office.
“Unfortunately, there are those who have issues with race on a fundamental level,” Democratic state senator Tupac Hunter, an Obama campaign co-chair, told the News. “This is their opportunity to indict an entire people for the very public foibles of a few.”
Democrats point to the Republican National Committee’s mock Facebook page for Obama which highlights Kilpatrick along with Chicago real estate developer Tony Rezko and other seedy Democrats with whom Obama has associated. Republicans counter that that is no different than Democratic tactics marrying McCain and George Bush.
But in this, the tenth anniversary of President Bill Clinton’s perjury scandal, the more obvious racial question is: Why is the Democratic Party not rallying to a prominent black mayor the way they rallied to a white president?
After all, the legal troubles of Mayor Kilpatrick and President Clinton are nearly identical.
Embroiled in long-running legal cases, both Kilpatrick (accused of improperly firing two Detroit police officers) and Clinton (Whitewater and Paula Jones’ sexual harassment suit) were brought to the political precipice after having perjured themselves over sexual affairs: Kilpatrick for lying about his relationship with chief-of-staff Christine Beatty, and Clinton for lying about Monica Lewinsky. Kilpatrick’s scandal — dubbed “Textgate” after steamy text messages between the mayor and Beatty belied their denials of the affair under oath — even paralleled Monicagate in revealing lurid details of the Democratic leader’s extramarital liaisons.
But whereas Democrats and their media allies staged a vigorous defense of Clinton a decade ago, Kilpatrick is largely on his own today. The fact is, Kilpatrick lacks the key ingredient that helped Clinton turn the tables: a Republican opposition.