Kwame Deserved It

Photo of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick taken by U.S. Marshals in 2010.  Source: AP/U.S. Marshals/Huffington Post.

So, Kwame Kilpatrick, former mayor of Detroit who resigned in disgrace amid myriad charges of scandal and corruption in September 2008, has been sentenced to 28 years in prison by a federal judge last week.  His crimes?  He was convicted of 24 counts of racketeering, bribery, extortion and mail fraud.  Kilpatrick has been in prison since March of this year, for parole violation of earlier perjury and obstruction of justice charges.  He was convicted of that in 2010.

Kwame Kilpatrick will be 71 years old when his sentence is complete, in 2041.  Good riddance.

I’m an avid Detroit supporter now living in the Chicago area, but I never once was a fan of Kwame Kilpatrick.  I remember his campaign in 2001, when he was just 31 years old, and he positioned himself as the kind of breath of fresh air that the Motor City needed at the time.  After election, he relished in calling himself “the hip hop mayor”.  I love hip hop, but something told me that positioning yourself as that would be a negative, not a positive.  No doubting his charisma, but tempermentally and stylistically speaking, he was not my type.  And to me, his youth was a detriment, not an asset.

Ultimately, he proved to be what I thought he would be.  Intelligent and charismatic.  Entitled and looking to make some money.

I was admittedly partial to Kilpatrick’s predecessor, Dennis Archer.  Archer served two terms as mayor between 1993 and 2001, following long time mayor Coleman Young.  From my perspective, he tried hard to modernize and streamline Detroit’s bureaucracy, and was a catalyst behind many large downtown construction projects (the Ford Field and Comerica Park sports stadiums, for example).  But Archer’s biggest problem was that he was not Coleman Young.  He did not gain the trust of Young loyalists, many of whom viewed him as a front for suburbanites to reclaim “control” of the city.  Many of his efforts were resisted by the loyalists, and he even had to face a recall campaign in his second term.  He declined to run again in 2001 and has maintained an active yet low profile life since then.

Kwame initially succeeded because he invoked Coleman Young during his run.  He was going to run the city on his terms, and not be subject to the wishes and desires of suburbanites.  In many ways Kwame’s election was a big “F— You” from Detroit voters to the suburbs.  Little did they realize that his pursuit of personal gain would be a big “F— You” right back to them.

As it turns out, debt exploded under Kilpatrick, jumping from about $5 billion at the start of his tenure to nearly $9 billion within three years.  True enough, debt did increase under the Archer administration, mostly due to steadily declining revenue.  But Kilpatrick kicked it up a notch with the $1.44 billion pension restructuring deal he arranged in 2005.  According to a Detroit Free Press investigation (see link above) into the city’s bankruptcy, that deal alone represents about 20 percent of the city’s overall debt and is a key contributor to the city’s municipal bankruptcy filing.

Where Detroit goes from here, fiscally speaking, I don’t know.  But I am glad Detroit can put the last few years behind it now with this conviction, and focus on its rebound.

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