Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Update on Kwame Kilpatrick

I just watched a speech by embattled Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick, if you're new to these precincts, has had what could charitably be described as a "speckled" career as mayor. There have been allegations of strippers and wild parties at the mayor's official residence, charges that he attempted to have a virtually bankrupt city pay for a Lincoln Navigator for his wife, and the latest allegations: that he committed perjury in an effort to conceal an extra-marital affair (and forced the city into a $9 million dollar settlement in a whistle-blower trial in the process).

Kilaptrick just appeared on WDIV-TV, Channel 4, the Detroit NBC affiliate. He spoke, not surprisingly, from his church.

As is the case with every other politician caught with his hand in the cookie jar, or his pants down (or both), he took the expected route: "I have sinned, I have found sweet baby Jeebus, I have repented, I must be forgiven, you must forget this thing ever happened."

Listening to the speech, Kilpatrick kept referring to the incidents of "the past week"... in other words, since the story broke that he may have committed perjury. Not a single comment about the affair, not a single comment about his alleged perjury, not a single comment about his ripping the city for 9 mil to cover his infidelity (although to be fair, he did mention that there were legal ramifications he couldn't discuss at present, namely his desperate attempts to evade indictment). In other words, he was apologizing for getting caught, not for boffing his Chief of Staff, not for ripping off the city to conceal the fact he has the morals of an alley cat, not for being a sleazy, rotten person. He only apologized for getting caught.

His wife, Carlita, who was in the church with him, stood by her man, although she looked as if she was ready to braid his testicles into those plastic key chains we made in summer camp.

I can sympathize with the mayor for having his personal peccadilloes spread across the front page, but my sympathy is tempered by the fact that every politician should know that he, she or (in dubya's case) it, does not have the same expectation of privacy as we ordinary mortals. One of the drawbacks to public service is that your every move will be (and should be) under a microscope, especially if those moves adversely affect the public you have theoretically sworn to serve. If you're going to enjoy the perks of public life (like having a posse made up of sworn law enforcement officers), you also have to accept the drawbacks.

Kilpatrick made it abundantly clear that he was not going to resign as mayor of Detroit. Personally, I think he should resign. He shamed his city, and made it a laughing stock. And it's not as if Detroit didn't have all sorts of problems already. His former chief of staff, Beatty, did the honorable thing; Kwame should do the same. He has forfeited any trust the citizens of Detroit may have had. The city needs to move on, and the best way to do that is for Kwame to go away.

The city of Detroit is in a crisis. While a crisis has been described as "danger + opportunity," there is very little opportunity in this situation. Kwame put off the speech for a week after the story broke, and -- as any crisis manager could tell you -- a delay that long allows the "other side" to frame the story any way they want. In this case, the media framed the story as yet another moral lapse by the mayor. In delaying as long as he did, Kilpatrick was forced into even more of a defensive posture than he might have been in earlier.

Of course, having text messages pop up that conclusively prove you had an affair after you and your paramour testified, under oath, that you hadn't, is not exactly the easiest thing to deal with. But Kilpatrick's usual ham-handed handling of this scandal allowed it to balloon into even more of a disaster. This is the kind of situation that has almost no chance of positive spin.

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy is investigating this case. Worthy must acknowledge the fact that her constituency extends across the entire county, and while the citizens of Detroit may shrug this off as "a man being a man," her constituency may not be so forgiving. Even though people outside of Detroit or even Wayne County may not care about the mayor's indiscretions, they are painfully aware of the political and social ramifications. The state of Michigan is already suffering from what has been described as a "one-state recession;" a situation like this is not going to attract new business, industry, or investment to Detroit, or even the state as a whole. A reputation of corruption in local officials can taint the reputation of an entire state; just ask anyone who lived in New Jersey during the 60's and 70's.

Furthermore, Kilpatrick's law license should be suspended immediately, pending final disposition of the case by Wayne County or state officials. Kilpatrick has certainly exhibited conduct of an immoral nature; such conduct is grounds for disbarment.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the personal ramifications for the Kilpatricks, allegations of sexual impropriety are a death knell for any politician's future prospects. Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Bill Clinton and others all learned this the hard way. Kilpatrick apparently thought it couldn't happen to him.

It can happen, and it did happen.

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