Sep 8, 2008
After months of denying any wrongdoing, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick finally copped a plea. He agreed to resign, spend four months in jail and five years on probation and pay one million dollars back to the city. This was the conclusion of a long and tortured series of events going back to a reputed 2002 party in the mayor’s mansion and the subsequent murder of a young woman who had danced at the party and then been attacked.
If Kilpatrick was able to hold on to office this long, it was only because, until recently, he had the full support of other powerful political forces. Michigan’s Attorney General Mike Cox, a Republican, ordered the State Police to call off their investigation into the party and the murder. Famously, Cox declared the party, which thousands of people in Detroit knew about, just “an urban legend.”
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm took a hands off approach, ignoring the obvious corruption in political circles. Prominent ministers like Horace Sheffield the 3rd expressed support for the mayor. Corporate executives of companies like DTE Energy, General Motors and PVS Chemicals threw their support and fundraising behind him before his re-election in 2006.
Long before his personal scandal broke, Kilpatrick had demonstrated who he served and who he dissed. He gave away the Zoo and the Art Institute, and handed over parks and recreation centers to churches. He tried to sell off Detroit’s half of the Windsor tunnel. Saying the city had no money to maintain parks, recreation centers, streets, lighting or garbage pickup, he cut all those back severely. Public works departments were slashed to the bone. One thousand fewer cops were on the street. Wages of city workers were cut. And work was farmed out to contractors who made big profits while paying barely over the minimum wage. And all of this so corporations could rob the city blind. He gave away huge tax breaks to developers and companies on every pretext.
But as evidence mounted against Kilpatrick, and a state representative called for reopening the investigation into the young woman’s murder, Republican Attorney General Cox, deeply implicated in the coverup, threatened Kilpatrick with jail time for supposedly assaulting a police officer.
With the Democrats worried whether they could carry Michigan for Obama, the scandal surrounding their most prominent mayor was too much of a liability. Democratic Governor Granholm called a hearing designed to oust him from office. And Kilpatrick’s corporate friends told him he had to go.
With no more wiggle room left, Kilpatrick accepted the best deal he could get.
If corporate bosses, politicians and the media protected Kilpatrick for as long as they did, it’s because they were protecting their own interests. When they finally called for Kilpatrick to step down, it was only because the growing scandal threatened to bring down too many others.
In their calculations, the life of a young woman, cut off too soon, counted as nothing.