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Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick denied again

Jun 28, 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court has made some controversial decisions this term, including Monday, when the nation’s highest court struck down a Texas law designed to make it harder for women to get abortions, something that is now a long-established constitutional right.

But the court also did something that was entirely predictable and scarcely controversial at all. They declined to hear yet another appeal by former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick of his public corruption conviction. That means that unless he comes up with yet other grounds for appeal, he is in federal prison until August 2037.

I was in Detroit for a while yesterday, and someone later asked me what the reaction was to the verdict.

Essentially, I didn’t see any.

Detroiters, by and large, grew tired of Kwame Kilpatrick a good while ago.

Detroiters, by and large, grew tired of Kwame Kilpatrick a good while ago. They got tired of the show, the bling, his sexual escapades, the gangsta rap act, long before the national media did.

When I mentioned the court’s ruling to one older black secretary, she said “good.”

Older black women were among the first to get fed up with Kilpatrick. When city services are close to nonexistent and you can’t get the cops to come when somebody’s been shot, there’s limited appeal in seeing some character in a fur coat living the high life at taxpayer expense.

Racism infects us all in different ways.

I saw how deeply Coleman Young had been scarred by it. But Kwame Kilpatrick was no more a victim of racism than members of the Prohibition-era Purple Gang were victims of anti-Semitism. He was born into a politically connected family, and was groomed for a life in power from the time he was about nine years old.

When he was elected mayor at age 31, he automatically assumed that Detroit was now his candy store, and everything in it belonged to him.

His personal excesses were well known when he ran for reelection against Freman Hendrix, a decent and principled man with a background in city government. But Kilpatrick was helped to victory in part by a coalition of mainly white-owned companies who thought he would be easier to do business with.

The business Kilpatrick actually did was committing the city's finances to a disastrous interest rate "swaps" scheme that helped drive Detroit into bankruptcy.

The business Kilpatrick actually did was committing the city’s finances to a disastrous interest rate “swaps” scheme that helped drive Detroit into bankruptcy.

Yet you can make an argument that he, and other bizarre characters like accused child molesting city council president Charles Pugh did Detroit a favor. They helped make virtually everyone see how broken the system was, and how much the city needed intervention by the state.

Despite dire predictions, there were no significant protests when the governor named an emergency manager. In an astonishing exhibition of political maturity, the mostly black city then elected a white mayor who had spent most of his life in the suburbs. Detroiters elected Mike Duggan because he was known to be a fixer who could make things work.

Kwame Kilpatrick could still pursue other appeals on technical grounds, but he’d have to do so at his own expense. He could also theoretically receive a presidential pardon someday, but don’t hold your breath. When he finally does get out, Detroit should be a completely different place from the city he knew and misgoverned. Which would be very good news indeed.

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