Sunday, December 19, 2010

REAP THE WHIRLWIND

Ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and four others stand newly indicted by a federal grand jury. The others charged include Kilpatrick’s father Bernard Kilpatrick (currently a local political consultant), ex-official of the Detroit Water Department Victor Mercado, Kilpatrick mayoral aide Derrick Miller and local construction businessman Bobby Ferguson. A six-year investigation preceded the 38 total indictments—some of the charges include extortion, bribery and racketeering. The junior Kilpatrick is already in prison regarding a parole violation earlier this year.

According to articles in the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, Kwame Kilpatrick's entry into ethically questionable practices stretched as far back as his stint in the State of Michigan legislature where he represented Detroit from 1996 to 2001, the year that he was elected as the youngest mayor in the city of Detroit (allegedly there were secret payoffs to allow Kilpatrick to become the Democratic Floor Leader and House Democratic Leader.)

Once elected, the feds allege that Kilpatrick and his camp of advisors, chief among whom would be his father Bernard, regularly tapped local businesspeople for payoffs to get favors in various aspects of city contracts, especially where it concerns construction-and-utility-related projects. A list of alleged payoffs is as follows, totaling in the millions of dollars: http://www.freep.com/article/20101216/NEWS07/12160527/The-Kilpatrick-Enterprise-How-the-feds-say-he-profited

Detroit City Councilman Kwame Kenyatta has raised the issue of the Justice Department apparently granting immunity to some parties who may have been the donors in the various alleged kickback schemes:
http://www.freep.com/article/20101219/NEWS01/12190584/1318/Some-who-paid-to-play-in-Detroit-corruption-probe-wont-be-charged

The rise and fall of this once favored son of Detroit has recently been documented by this author: http://hypestyleshomebase.blogspot.com/2010/05/requiem-for-hip-hop-mayor-former.html Kilpatrick's ongoing string of legal misadventures have made national, even international headlines, during the past few years.

Kilpatrick was fond of a form of populism that initially engendered overflowing goodwill from Detroit's predominately African-American constituency. He was fond of mentioning his religious leanings, often mentioning God in speeches and interviews. At the memorial service for civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks (who was a longtime resident of Detroit by the time she died) Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan was one of the invited speakers, at the request of Kilpatrick (and possibly to the silent chagrin of some in attendance, including Governor Jennifer Granholm, who looked quite nervous.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsaVIXN-N-Y

If one accepts the (somewhat broad) premise that if the city of Detroit is 85% African-American, then the tax money that Kilpatrick and his cronies were fooling around with was roughly 85% African-American as well. Juxtapose that notion with the smug defiance and dismissiveness that Kilpatrick showed in the initial months after his secret text-messages were revealed, and you have on display a man that seemingly holds in contempt the people that he is supposed to represent (as well as presumably having an elevated cultural empathy for.)

On the surface Kilpatrick offered a form of genteel Afrocentric solidarity that made him a folk-hero for locals, a more legitimate successor to longtime former mayor Coleman Young (who served 5 terms, 1974 - 1993). Young's personal style was marked by brusque blunt-spokenness, especially concerning racism-- Young took office in the early 70s when racial strife was still seething in the city (divestment by white residents and businesses ratcheted up after the city riots of 1967: Detroit flipped from being roughly 30% black by the mid-60's to being about 80% by the late 70s.) Young had a cooperative relationship with Democratic President Jimmy Carter; much less so with Ronald Reagan and the conservative revolution of the 1980s. Young's immediate successor and Kilpatrick's predecessor Dennis Archer managed to serve two terms (1994 - 2001) but is held in low opinion by many urban locals who felt he was an accommodationist to then-Republican Governor John Engler.

Sidebar: Archer's administration, like a lot of contemporary urban mayors, concentrated on getting downtown redevelopments going, after a decades-long disinvestment that left Downtown Detroit resembling a modern ghost town. Still, this left a lot to be desired for broader neighborhood issues-- Archer's most glaring embarrassment hit in winter of '97 when a tremendous blizzard hit the city, blanketing the city in several feet of snow. Archer was on vacation at the time--
and the initial word from city hall regarding snow cleanup was that no
residential streets would be plowed. The public backlash was palpable, and
within less than a week Archer was back in town his position was changed.


Despite all of this, throughout the initial text-message scandal and the court appearances that followed, Kilpatrick still could count on a loyal, vocal sect of (mostly) African-American supporters. Most typically, the sentiment being raised was that he was a semi-messianic figure who was laid low by a quasi-anonymous conspiracy of political power-players ranging from the near suburbs to state government in Lansing; and whatever his 'crimes' (often, Kilpatrick's extra-marital affair with advisor Christine Beatty is pointed out to be the only 'offense'), they weren't any worse than what various white politicians have presumably gotten away with in other communities.

In fairness, the charges, serious as they are, are just that for now-- charges. In a move that annoys those who are annoyed with the Kilpatricks, both father and son have retained public defenders, claiming personal poverty. RICO statutes were used to put together the case against the accused. It remains to be seen who among these men indicted will be forced to stand trial, and if so, who-- if anyone-- will be convicted. Regardless of the outcome, the present circumstances are another gut-punch to the morale of city residents and the entire metro area. In particular for the city, under the leadership of current mayor Dave Bing, it is trying for the first time to revision a long-term outlook for the city. Pending 2010 Census results will likely put Detroit's population at well under 1 million, a far cry from its mid-20th century peak of about twice that. The Detroit Works Project seeks input from the general public on how to best make the use of the available land in the city--- Detroit has 139 square miles of land, roughly 30% of which is effectively abandoned or otherwise vacant.

Revisioning the city will take being able to somehow get beyond the violations of the past-- both real and perceived. In the case of the "Kilpatrick Enterprise" (as the Feds have dubbed the alleged graft operations) the ongoing woes of the former mayor and his confidantes threatens to derail any progressive outcomes of this ongoing initiative. On one end of the reactionary spectrum are those metro-area suburbanites greater-Michigan residents who tend to feel that all urban (and black/Democratic-aligned) politicians are corrupt by default, Detroit is forever the urban-wasteland of John Carpenter's "Escape From New York" in their eyes and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot (or worse, a liberal). On the other end of the reactionary spectrum are certain African-American residents of the city and vicinity, embittered by contemporary conflicts, who feel that pointing out black corruption is only fair if there is a white counterpart to share an indictment, or that publicly aligning one's self to a Higher Power means that any and all mistakes-- including blatantly criminal choices-- should be forgiven without repercussions.

This week's events should not-- they can not-- define Detroit from now on. The city-- and the country-- deserve much better.

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