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Commentary: Goodbye Kwame Kilpatrick

The newspapers are full of stories about Kwame Kilpatrick’s conviction today. That makes sense. This is a major story. Never has a former Detroit mayor been convicted of so many felonies on so many charges, though he is not the first or even the second to end up in jail.

But what doesn’t make sense is the media’s continuing obsession with him. When Kilpatrick resigned his office in disgrace, George Bush was still president, Jennifer Granholm was still governor, and the auto bailout hadn’t yet happened. That was nearly five years ago.

More than three years ago, Mayor Dave Bing told me that he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach every time Kilpatrick was back in the newspapers. Every reminder of Kwame’s existence made his job that much harder. Yet every time Kwame moved, it seemed to be front-page news. His seemingly interminable trial went on for months.

Most Detroiters I knew didn’t follow the trial very closely. They had long ago been disillusioned by the man-child they’d elected mayor a dozen years ago. Today, I know Detroiters who think the coming emergency manager is a plot to steal their city.

But I don’t know any who think Kilpatrick got a raw deal. Mostly, they just want him to go away. Now, he IS going away, for years at least. And for the city he helped ruin, that will be good.

Years ago, when Jack Kevorkian finally went to prison, a prosecutor told me his fame would quickly fade. “Prisoners don’t usually get to hold press conferences,” he said, and he was right. We should hope the former mayor does his time far away from the state.

There were those who, remembering the O.J. Simpson verdict nearly 20 years ago, thought Kilpatrick might go free. But it seems there was never a threat of that.

This jury was a model of citizenship. They considered each count against each defendant carefully. They based their verdicts on the evidence. The judge is known for her even-handedness. I don’t see appeals getting very far.

I knew Kwame Kilpatrick, by the way, and interviewed him a number of times. He was a charming and naturally arrogant spoiled brat, who had been told from the time he was eight years old that he could be mayor, and whose parents indulged his every whim.

When he became mayor at age 31, he assumed that the city was his personal candy store, and all the girls at the counter and all the money in the till belonged to him.

When I asked him once about the rumors of a wild party with strippers at the Manoogian Mansion, he denied it, but said with a grin that such rumors were natural because he was so sexy.

Detroiters did in fact wink at their charming rogue, until they learned his crimes and cover-ups cost their poor city millions.

Detroit now needs to be reborn. Perhaps it’s appropriate that his conviction and the governor’s decision to appoint an emergency manager happened virtually at the same time.

Years ago, Detroit had another mayor, Richard Reading, who also went to prison for corruption in office. Today, his name is all but forgotten. Let’s hope Kwame Kilpatrick’s will someday be 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.

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