Detroit – Consumed by scandal, Kwame Kilpatrick announced his resignation as Detroit mayor last week after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in testimony involving his firing of two police officers.
The once-rising political star is both a Democratic irony and an American urban tragedy.
The irony is that Kilpatrick resigned for “lying about sex,” to use Bill Clinton’s phrase, in a case that almost directly paralleled the 1998 scandal that brought impeachment charges against the former president.
Prosecutors brought evidence of Kilpatrick’s affair with chief-of-staff Christine Beatty as evidence of a pattern of sexual conduct that had led to a police investigation of Kilpatrick for misusing city resources.
And like Clinton, Kilpatrick will pay a price for his perjury: Four months in jail, a $1 million fine, and a five-year disbarment. Clinton paid $25,000 in fines, was dealt a five-year disbarment, and resigned from the Supreme Court bar.
Unlike Clinton, however, Kilpatrick did not survive in office.
“Commentators and historians, I expect, will use the lessons of these difficult months to teach those young, future public servants about the importance of integrity and honor and duty to the public,” said Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm. Nonsense.
What the Kilpatrick case teaches is that scandalized politicians need foils in the opposing party. While Clinton successfully rallied his party and its media allies to fight “Republican prosecutor” Ken Starr and a GOP Congress, Kilpatrick was pursued by black Democrats in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office and Detroit City Council.
As a result, while Clinton survived and thrived — he was a keynote speaker at this year’s Democratic Convention and is one of his party’s most effective fundraisers — Kilpatrick will be a Democratic pariah.
Oh, well, at least justice exists in Detroit.
But the more lasting damage will be Kwame Kilpatrick’s broken promise to a city that desperately needs black-male leadership.
Detroit is America’s poster child for urban dysfunction. The city boasts a national-low 25 percent high school graduation rate, a 49-percent adult-illiteracy rate, and a consistently good shot at the “America’s most violent city” award.
All these ills are grounded in the city’s staggering 85 percent illegitimacy rate, a direct result of an inner-city culture of fatherless black families.
Elected as Detroit’s youngest (31) mayor in 2000 and sporting a beautiful wife and two young boys, Kwame Kilpatrick held promise as the role model Detroit desperately needed.
But instead of serving his constituents, Kilpatrick served himself.
The self-proclaimed “hip-hip mayor” swaggered through Detroit with a “security posse” and larded his government with childhood cronies. His sexual exploits became legendary. He enrolled his children in charter schools even as he denied his poor constituents a $250 million charter school investment from a local philanthropist.
In short, Kilpatrick is a womanizing felon.
Kilpatrick will serve 120 days in jail, but the damage to his people will last much, much longer.
– Henry Payne is a writer and editorial cartoonist for The Detroit News.