Our long, local nightmare is over: Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, already a felon, has been convicted on 24 federal charges of racketeering, wire fraud, extortion and bribery today, practically guaranteeing a lengthy prison term and bringing a close to a chapter in the Motor City's history annals that read entirely too long.
If you're confused and thinking "Hasn't Kwame been here before?", it's fine, because not too long ago he was charged with and/or convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, assaulting a police officer, misusing funds, violating terms of his probation, and pretty much being a general jackass, which has led to brief stints in and out of jail. This time, with today's events concluding a decade-long FBI investigation, shit's getting real.
Outside Detroit, Kilpatrick's name is synonymous with the decline of the city and it's myriad problems and it's generally agreed that he's a pretty bad guy. In the city, Kilpatrick is perhaps the most polarizing political figure — perhaps even more so than legendary shit-stirrer Coleman Young — to ever come around, with half of Detroiters young and old clinging heavily to golden days when the young mayor first took office and the other half wondering why today's convictions hadn't come sooner.
What we knew publicly at the time of Kilpatrick's election in 2001 was his unending determination to bring new life to the city. A much-needed riverwalk was added to the Detroit River, new homes were built in neighborhoods neglected since the 1960s, and rebuilt the city's downtown which had been on life support throughout much of the 1990s. But when reporters started questioning his spending of tax dollars on being chauffeured in Escalades, or why the lease of a tricked-out Navigator for his wife showed up on the city's books (while he was laying off city employees, BTW), the line in the sand was drawn.
On one side stood Kilpatrick's defenders who thought the media and powers-that-be were out to destroy a young black man. On the other side were the "do the crime, do the time" crowd. Over the years as more and more and more wrongdoings came out, including the text-message scandal, it appears the latter side has won out.
And still today as the Twitterverse explodes with reaction to Kilpatrick's conviction, his apologists weigh in. "This never would have happened if..." "But Detroit was already messed up when..." "Why did they convict him instead of the Wall Street guys..." and the like.
Kilpatrick's conviction comes at a thorny time for societal relations in Detroit. You can't talk about his rise without talking about race: As the son of one of Detroit's first black women to hold state office in Michigan, Kilpatrick stood next to then-Illinois state senator Barack Obama and Newark Mayor Cory Booker as the faces of a new, energetic Democratic black leadership. In Detroit, forever unhealed by decades of racial tension, Kilpatrick was — and still is, understandably — a hero to many.
Today, a white male Republican governs the state and his intent to keep the City of Detroit from municipal bankruptcy could mean an all-out takeover of the city, which could, in essence, eliminate the powers of the all-black city council and swipe the voting rights of a city with an 80% black population. Factor in a new generation of young and mostly non-black residents moving into the city opening coffee shops and microbreweries, and many Detroiters are on edge about the changing demographics and dynamics here.
It's somewhat understandable why some would still continue to defend Kilpatrick with all that's going on in Detroit today, but to justify public corruption when it came the expense of city resources is bizarre. Those rejoicing over his conviction and hailing a new day in Detroit should pump their brakes as well; one man's conviction doesn't solve decades of fiscal insolvency, a shrinking tax base, faltering schools and rising crime rates overnight.
(Photo via Kwame Kilpatrick's Facebook)