Detroit’s Battles

Civic and political leaders react to mayor's indictment

The indictment of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is causing a firestorm and mixed reactions from local African American civic and political leaders. On Monday, the Wayne County prosecutor’s office charged Kilpatrick with eight felonies including perjury, obstruction of justice, and misconduct in office. Local support for Kilpatrick is mixed, says Brenda Jones, a city council member. “The mayor still has many supporters who are behind him 100%.

“It’s tearing the city apart,” says council member Kwame Kenyatta. The Detroit City Council voted 7-1 last week to call for Kilpatrick to step down even before the charges were announced, and it remains convinced that his resignation would be best for the city, Kenyatta says. Kilpatrick has said that he will not resign, but Kenyatta argues that the public spectacle created by a trial will color the nation’s perceptions of Detroit. It is not a question of whether he’s guilty or innocent. He will be dragging the city of Detroit into the national spotlight. He will be a mayor on trial as opposed to a former mayor on trial.”

The charges against Kilpatrick stem from sexually explicit text messages allegedly sent between the mayor and his former chief of staff Christine Beatty, which in turn contradicted statements the two gave under oath denying an extramarital affair during a whistle-blower trial last summer. Kilpatrick approved a confidential settlement of the whistle-blower lawsuit that reportedly cost city taxpayers more than $9 million.

“This is a horrible situation for the city of Detroit at a time when we are facing a myriad of problems with our education system, out of control crime, the loss of jobs, and rampant home foreclosures,” says Tupac A. Hunter, a Michigan state senator and assistant Democratic leader. “It is most unfortunate that the mayor and his former chief of staff have found themselves in [this] situation.” Hunter added that the legal process will dispose of this situation in due process and in due time. “In any event, I am certain that the city will survive this, and we will be able to move forward with new leadership as well as a renewed spirit.”

Political insiders say that the Kilpatrick scandal has already cost Detroit a major conference. The National Conference of Black Mayors planned to have their annual convention in Detroit, but New Orleans will now serve as the host city this May in the wake of the controversy.

But the city of Detroit may not be the only casualty when it comes to the court of public opinion. Some analysts say African American politicians across the country may be hurt by the scandal, an opinion that is particularly noteworthy in light of Sen. Barack Obama’s run for the presidency.

“The first tragedy is the criminal charges Kilpatrick faces. Without any presumption of guilt, that’s for a jury to decide,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst. However, “the criminal charges feed the all too widespread and subtle racist notion that black politicians are compromised, corrupt, and ineffectual,” adds the author of The Ethnic Presidency:

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