Kwame Malik Kilpatrick is probably the last black elected official in which Detroiters will put any faith. A native son from a respected and politically connected family, the charismatic leader had a great future in public service ahead of him. That was until he became addicted to power and greed.
Last week, Kwame (nicknamed the Hip Hop Mayor) was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison, convicted of racketeering conspiracy, fraud, extortion and tax crimes – crimes against the people of Detroit who were already in dire straits when Kwame became the city’s youngest mayor in 2002. He served as mayor a little more than six years before having to resign in the midst of one of the biggest sex and corruption scandals the city had ever witnessed. This was the prelude to the big investigation by the feds. Corruption, murder, sex, infidelity – Kwame’s real-life actions could put TV’s “Scandal” to shame.
Bernard Kilpatrick, Kwame’s father, is said to have broken down in tears when Judge Nancy Edmunds read the sentence. I don’t know if it was because Bernard felt remorse for his enabling role in his son’s demise or if he realized that he, too, was also on his way to the slammer. The elder Kilpatrick plus two others are all part of the conspiracy charges that did little to impede the Motor City’s long standing financial woes.
At the heart of the corruption charges was a pay-to-play scheme that led to a number of black businesses being forced out of business because they couldn’t afford to play the Kilpatricks’ high stakes game. Kwame lived large, traveling around the country in private jets and dressing in expensive suits. Most despicable, Kilpatrick used money from his charitable organizations, which were created to help distressed Detroit residents, to pay for his playthings.
City residents’ hopes for a brighter future were dashed when Kwame’s tenure pushed the city to the brink of financial disaster and brought unwanted negative publicity to an already dismal reputation. After the first corruption charge and prison sentence, Kwame moved his family to Texas where the family continued their lavish lifestyle. The narcissist coward who once claimed to have been chosen by God to lead the city didn’t even have the guts to stay and face the people of Detroit, let alone help address some of the problems he had created.
Many city services are either nonexistent or sporadic, including emergency services like police and ambulances. Neighborhoods are being forced to create their own systems for survival. When 20,000 of us converged on Detroit for the 2010 U.S. Social Forum, we witnessed exactly that. People are desperately trying to carve out ways to feed, clothe and house themselves and to educate their children.
On the verge of an historic bankruptcy, we don’t know what’s in store for the city of Detroit but the Kilpatrick House of Cards continues to crumble. Father and son are on their way to prison and Kwame’s wife, Carlita, is now unemployed. The former First Lady of Detroit and recipient of thousands of dollars in kickbacks was just fired from her $41K job in Duncanville, Texas, after unreported cash was found in her office desk drawer.
There are lessons our social movement should draw from these familiar sagas. Candidates must be groomed in the context of struggle by those active in transformational societal change. Further, they must be accountable to the movement and not just to their constituents. While there are no guarantees as to who will sell out the People and when, my experience in the electoral arena say that the odds are minimized for surprise betrayals when people’s commitment has been tested in day-to-day battle before they take office.
There are only a few cases where charges of political corruption have warranted my coming to the defense of a black elected official. Kwame Kilpatrick is not one of them. At a time when Detroit needed him the most, Kwame chose the opportunist path by adding to the oppression of black folks and looking out for himself.
The Black Commentator
Friday, 18 October 2013