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Farewell to Kwame

Tomorrow a federal judge will sentence former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to a long stretch in prison for some of his crimes. Nearly seven months ago, he was convicted on 24 counts of corruption, including tax evasion, racketeering, extortion and mail fraud.

The airwaves will be full of this tomorrow. The newspapers will have a field day the next day. In Detroit, where chronicling Kilpatrick is a big-league sport of its own, there’s a lot of speculation as to how long he’ll get.

I don’t know, but I do know this: The worst punishment for this charming sociopath will probably be the one that starts after the sentencing is over. I intend to help administer this punishment, and hope my colleagues in the media will too. I intend, insofar as possible, to ignore Kwame Kilpatrick.  If the rest of the media does the same, that may torment him worse than anything else.

The media have never been able to get enough of Kwame. We fawned all over him when he first ran for mayor. Here was this brilliant 31 year old, an athlete, a scholar, a blazing star in the legislature come to save his city.

Our fascination continued after he got in office, and began living the life style of a third world dictator. The limousines! The women! The fur coats and fancy trips! There were scandals galore.

Even after he was forced to resign, he was seldom out of the news, as he continued to lie, cheat, fail to make restitution payments, and generally betray everyone who ever helped or trusted him.

Mayor Dave Bing told me once he got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach whenever Kwame was back in the news, because any mention of him made Bring’s job as mayor just a little bit harder.

How much Kilpatrick cost the city will probably never be known. Last weekend, an investigation by the Detroit Free Press put the direct cost as at least $20 million, though the ripple effect and the effects of long-term damage to the city’s image is probably incalculable.

What’s worse is that there is no excuse for him. Kwame Kilpatrick was born a child of political privilege. He knew how desperate the lives of some Detroiters were.  But he cared only for his own.

More than 10 years ago, I asked him about the legendary wild party at the Manoogian Mansion, an event which probably never happened. He grinned and denied it, but didn’t seem offended in the least. He told me he thought rumors like that started because he and his administration were so sexy. He was a narcissist to the core.

My guess is that he will always think he got a raw deal. My guess is that whenever he gets out of jail, he will almost immediately get in trouble again. But I no longer care.

Fourteen years ago, the day Jack Kevorkian was sentenced to prison, the prosecutor told me, “prisoners don’t get to hold televised press conferences.” 

Within a few months Dr. Death had been almost totally forgotten. For the sake of all of us, especially the poor battered city of Detroit, let’s hope Kilpatrick’s fate is the same.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.