Why Mayor Kilpatrick is angry about the verdict
Sting of whispers hurts mayor most
September 12, 2007
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wants to be clear: It’s not the jury in the $6.5-million cop whistle-blower case that has him steaming.
“I think it’s bigger than that,” he said Wednesday during a wide-ranging talk in his office.
“It’s a guy who has never been in trouble. Got pretty good grades. Graduated with honors from college. Graduated law school. Only freshman legislator to chair a committee. Leader of the state House. Became the mayor of the City of Detroit.
“And all of a sudden, on the whisper, or word of one person, he’s turned into a thuggish, promiscuous, sexual animal almost.
“I just think it’s a dangerous thing, when you can just say this is who he is, and that’s it.”
Kilpatrick said that’s what he was reacting to Tuesday when he lashed out at the verdict against him, suggesting he hadn’t gotten a fair trial and, by any fair read of his comments, pasting the jury for being mostly suburban and, by implication, almost all white.
To his credit, the mayor said Wednesday that if anything, the jury was to him just a symptom of the problem, and he certainly didn’t mean to disrespect the courts or the legal system with his comments.
More moving, though, was the mayor’s clear frustration over his image, and what he calls the constant need to make him into a caricature. No doubt there’s a racial tinge to the nastiness about him, one that’s wrapped up in this region’s awful history and the inability to get over it.
“I’ve been pushed all the way into being the Lil’ Jon hip-hop guy, the total negative guy,” he said. “I’ve never been the subject of rumors before. I never was in trouble, or arrested or anything.
“As Jelani and Jaleel and Jonas’ father, and Carlita’s husband, that’s what hurts for Kwame Kilpatrick, personally.”
The mayor said one of the hardest things he has had to do was explain to his older boys, the twins, who are sixth-graders, about the more lurid details that came out during the case.
“It’s tough to have to talk to your children about hearing about daddy in the barbershop they go to, in the back, with a girl.”
Any husband or father can relate to the sting he’s acknowledging there.
But even as mayor, Kilpatrick has grounds to object to the relentless personal criticism.
There’s a lot going on in the city these days, good stuff that the city can build on. And Kilpatrick rightfully claims credit for much of it. He said he doesn’t understand how all that can be true while so many people still believe he’s a thug.
“When you look at the hotel development, the street development, the new houses, the property tax cut, the balancing of a $300-million shortfall when everybody said it was over for us,” he said. “What you see, versus what you hear, you should be able to reconcile.”
He said it’s hard to think about the region and the state when there’s a constant drive — presumably on the part of suburbanites — to put the city and its mayor down, to suggest that nothing good can even compete with stories of scandal.
“There’s race in this, and we run from it in this region,” Kilpatrick said. “And I think it’s impossible for us to move forward as a region without confronting it head-on.
But I don’t want what has happened in the past 24 months to be erased by what has happened in the last two days.”
If there’s good news in any of this, it’s that the mayor’s determined not to let the case, his comments or the reaction derail the work he’s doing for the city. He says he’ll reach out, preferably in a public way, to the region’s county executives in the coming days.
“I want to say, ‘Hey man, let’s work on something else,’ because we were doing that before this, and we need to get back to it,” he said.
Kilpatrick said he also reengaged some of the city’s investors and prospective suitors on Wednesday, just to ensure that things remain on track.
“Everyone was positive, and that really helped,” he said.
And now he’ll move on.
“This moment in time is not crushing the whole world,” he said. “It’s just something we have to deal with here in Detroit and southeast Michigan.”
STEPHEN HENDERSON is deputy editorial page editor of the Free Press. Contact him at 313-222-6659, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.