By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2008
CHICAGO, Jan. 25 -- Last year, Detroit's flamboyant and controversial mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, denied under oath that he had had an affair with his chief of staff. Now the Detroit Free Press's revelation of 14,000 flirtatious and sometimes graphic sexual text messages between Kilpatrick and Christine Beatty may force Kilpatrick to resign, lose his law license or face perjury charges.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy said in a statement Friday morning that she found out about the text messages "when you found out -- in the morning newspaper." Worthy said the office is opening an investigation and added: "News reports and newspaper articles are not investigations, and we cannot and will not make any potential charging decisions based on them."
Kilpatrick is married and has three sons. Beatty was married at the time and has two children. In the text messages, both declared themselves "madly in love." (The Free Press has not said how it obtained the 2002-2003 messages.)
"These five- and six-year-old text messages reflect a very difficult period in my personal life," Kilpatrick said in a statement. "It is profoundly embarrassing to have these extremely private messages now displayed in such a public manner. My wife and I worked our way through these intensely personal issues years ago."
"He's spending the next several days with his family," Kilpatrick spokesman James Canning said Friday. He declined to comment further.
Kilpatrick denied an affair during proceedings for the civil lawsuit filed by two former Detroit police officers who alleged they were fired for investigating whether Kilpatrick enlisted his bodyguards to cover up trysts with Beatty.
Last fall, a jury awarded $6.5 million to the officers, Harold Nelthrope and Gary Brown. Brown said he was surprised to see the scandal again in the public eye.
"I was relieved when the trial was over. I was pretty content that part of my life was over," he said. "I was shocked it came back. I'm not gloating; it was something I feel sad to be a part of."
Kilpatrick and Beatty, both 37, have known each other since high school. He appointed her his chief of staff while he served in the state House and his campaign manager for his House and mayoral bids.
The text messages are the latest in a series of controversies for Kilpatrick, who became the youngest mayor in the city's history when he took office in 2002 at age 31.
Known as the "hip-hop mayor," Kilpatrick included "club crawls" in his inauguration festivities, and he wore flashy suits and a diamond earring -- later ditched in an effort to tone down his image. He drew criticism for his personal style, for using city credit cards for expensive trips and for leasing a luxury SUV for his family. In 2005 Time magazine named him one of "America's worst mayors."
Even before the police officers alleged an affair, there were rumors, said John Strate, a professor of political science at Wayne State University. "Everyone who voted for the guy and didn't know he was a philanderer must have believed in the tooth fairy," Strate said. "There has always been a lot of scuttlebutt that he was a man about town. He's a big guy, charismatic, very bright, and he likes his lady friends."
Though still struggling economically, Detroit has been undergoing something of a resurgence, with upscale development along its riverfront and several companies, including online mortgage lender Quicken Loans, considering moving their headquarters there. Some speculate that the scandal could scare investors.
"Companies that are currently deciding whether to expand in or locate in Detroit have to be asking themselves 'Will we have a champion in the mayor's office?' " said Michael LaFaive, director of fiscal policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an economic think tank. "Will this be the mayor that's going to be in office when we sign on the dotted line? What if the chief executive changes and the next chief executive disagrees with the incentive package put together [by Kilpatrick]? Investors hate uncertainty."