By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2008
DETROIT First, in The Scandal That Ate Detroit, you must remember that it's all about text.
These would be the text messages between Mayor Kwame "Never Busted" Kilpatrick (married) and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty (married, at the time of the following exchanges, to one of Kilpatrick's childhood buddies).
Second, you must remember that Detroiters have put up with a lot of bad news -- Forbes magazine just awarded it top billing in the "America's Most Miserable Cities" index -- and are fed up with another blow to the city's image.
Third, it helps to remember that KK and CB testified under oath last year that they had never, ever, ever had anything but a professional relationship. This was during a trial that found they had fired a couple of police officers for investigating allegations of mayoral misconduct. The jury awarded the officers $8.4 million.
Kilpatrick and Beatty got all kinds of angry at the insinuations about their relationship.
So, you can only imagine the mayor's surprise to pick up the Detroit Free Press on Jan. 25 and read a headline that began with the subtle assertion: "Mayor Lied Under Oath."
The paper had obtained -- it won't say how -- thousands of text messages between KK and CB, many of which were so sexually explicit that the paper said it couldn't print them without scandalizing southeastern Michigan. (Also, while the pair testified they did not "fire" one of the officers in question, the messages show them privately discussing how the decision to "fire" the officer could have been better handled. Whoops.)
Here's a sampling of the messages the paper found fit to print:
Kilpatrick, in Washington, Sept. 12, 2003, 9:02 a.m., after Beatty had apparently spent the previous night in his hotel room: The mayor's bodyguards "were right outside the door. They had to have heard everything . . ."
CB: "So we are officially busted. LOL."
KK: "LOL LOL! Damn that. Never busted. Busted is what you see! LOL."
CB: "LOL, LOL! Damn, so they have to walk in before you concede busted! LOL."
KK: "Hell yeah. Walk in. [Expletive] that."
Beatty, text message, April 8, 2003, 8:55 p.m.: "Did you miss me, sexually?"
KK: "Hell yeah! You couldn't tell. I want some more!"
A month later, midnight:
KK: "That's the first time I couldn't fully seduce you! My game is off. LOL!"
CB: "Your game is way on, baby!"
Oct. 7, 2002, 11:20 p.m.:
CB: "I'm feeling like I want another night like the most recent Saturday at the Residence Inn! You made me feel so damn good that night."
KK: "I feel we can do that in WV [West Virginia] + just relax together. I need you soooo bad . . . "
But that's not all!
Kilpatrick's administration had told the paper for months there had been no "secret agreement" that settled the firing case.
But the paper had filed a Freedom of Information Act suit intended to force the mayor to turn over all records related to the $8.4 million settlement after the trial. A judge ordered the city to turn over a confidentiality agreement that had been signed by the mayor and approved by a city lawyer, specifically keeping the damning text messages from public view.
The mayor's chief counsel, Sharon McPhail (who once accused him of being a "thug" before she went to work for him, but that's another story), then said, when a judge finally compelled the city to release the documents: "There was no secret agreement."
Reread that one if you need to, but don't get stuck! There's still more.
Last fall, when the suit was settled (the city dropped its right to appeal on Oct. 17), the mayor told the public and the city council that he was reluctantly settling the case at the behest of business and religious leaders who were urging him to move forward.
In reality, the paper produced documents showing that Mike Stefani, the police officers' attorney, had obtained the text message records in early October and presented them to Kilpatrick's attorney in a sealed envelope on Oct. 17. The paper reported the mayor's attorneys settled the case that day, but only if the text messages stayed secret. The mayor sort of forgot to mention that to the city council when he asked them to approve the payout to the wrongfully fired police.
But wait! There's still more!
Detroit television station WXYZ reported that, the weekend before the story broke, the mayor went to Asheville, N.C., to deliver an inspirational Martin Luther King Day address to a local civic organization. Neither Kilpatrick's wife nor Beatty have said that they went -- but hotel staff told the television station that the mayor and his "girlfriend" enjoyed a two-hour couple's massage, complete with an "aromatic bubble bath," champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. The mayor's massage tab: $504. The TV station said the woman gave her name as "Carmen Slowski," an apparent reference to the name of a talking turtle in Comcast cable ads.
But wait! There's even still more!
After Kilpatrick and his wife, Carlita, went on television to acknowledge their marriage wasn't perfect -- they held hands -- the mayor went on a local radio show last week.
He said the Free Press had "committed a crime" in obtaining the text messages. In the sort of accusation rarely heard from elected officials, he said that the judge himself may have leaked the documents "in the backroom." Referring to the entire Wayne County court, he said that there were "some serious questions about how that court is run." He said the jury's verdict was "based on no legitimate facts" and urged listeners to "remember the makeup of the jury." (The jury had one black member.)
Kilpatrick then said the confidentiality agreement about the text messages was only personal bookkeeping at the end of a messy legal case and had "nothing to do" with the lawsuit. He said he was acting as a private citizen when he signed that document, but was acting as mayor when he signed the rest of the settlement papers. He said by fighting to keep those private, he was fighting for the rights of "all Detroiters" who might someday be involved in a lawsuit.
He said he believed he was on an "assignment from God" to run the city.
He said: "There's been no coverup."
He said: "I'm a guy, I'm a dude, I'm a man."
* * *
We should note here that Kwame Kilpatrick had -- and may regain -- a promising political career.
The son of Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), he was first elected six years ago at age 31, bringing a youthful energy and enthusiasm to a city that needed both. Roughly one-third of Detroiters live below the poverty line. The city's population, 911,000, has been falling for nearly 50 years, and is now almost half the size it was at its peak. It is perhaps the poorest major city in America. There are, as is endlessly noted in stories about it, lots of abandoned houses, factories and streets.
Still, Kilpatrick has had some notable successes. He's lured the Super Bowl, Major League Baseball's All-Star Game and next year's Final Four in men's college basketball to Detroit. He's overseen a slow but steady growth of downtown. He's gone back to the Census Bureau with data that caused officials to revise their estimate of the city's population upward by 47,000, notes mayoral consultant Bob Berg, who adds that Quicken Loans is moving its headquarters downtown.
In public, Kilpatrick is affable, charming and relentlessly upbeat about his city. On Capitol Hill last week to testify before the House Natural Resources Committee, he presented a well-received, passionate defense of the city in a bid to keep new casinos from opening a few dozen miles away and competing with Detroit's own casinos.
"There's a real frustration among the mayor's supporters that one mistake, at least for his critics, is going to wipe out any memory of what else is going on," Berg says in a telephone interview.
Fair enough, but Kilpatrick has often seemed to be his own worst enemy.
Shortly after he was elected there were rumors in the press of a wild party at the Manoogian Mansion, the mayoral residence, that was said to have involved exotic dancers and the like. (This became particularly important several months later when one of the dancers said to be at the party, Tamara Greene, stage name Strawberry, was found shot to death.) But before that shooting, there were tales about the mayor's relationship with Beatty, and allegations that some of the mayor's bodyguards were paid for work they didn't do. A deputy police chief began to investigate and was almost immediately dismissed. He sued, claiming he was fired for investigating mayoral misconduct. Two other officers eventually filed suit on similar grounds.
The wild party was eventually dismissed as an "urban legend," according to the state attorney general, but the trial for wrongful dismissal went forward last year. Beatty took the stand on Aug. 28. When Stefani asked her repeatedly if she'd had a romantic and sexual relationship with the mayor, or if they'd fired the police officer in question, she sneered. She rolled her eyes. She said no, no and no again.
Kilpatrick took the stand the next day. The idea of an affair with Beatty was insulting, he testified: "It's absurd to assert that every woman that works with a man is a whore." He added that Beatty's husband was a close friend since childhood: "Lou Beatty grew up three houses down from me. We played on the same Little League team. . . . At 6 o'clock, he'll be coaching my sons."
* * *
Let's go down to the Free Press.
In the past 15 years, the newspaper has been through a demoralizing strike and changes in ownership. The landmark Free Press building downtown is an empty shell. The paper now works in the same building as its rival, the Detroit News.
We sit down with Executive Editor Caesar Andrews to ask him about Kilpatrick's charges of felonious journalism. He politely notes that Kilpatrick has apparently gone out of his mind:
"It's just so insane. You don't expect comments like that from responsible community leaders."
Andrews declines to reveal the paper's source of the text messages because that source has asked to remain anonymous. But, he says, "nothing the Free Press did in the reporting of this story -- absolutely nothing -- was criminal or illegal or untoward in any way. Every step would meet the highest of standards."
He also notes that no point in any of the revelations -- down to the mayor's two-hour massage and hot tub in North Carolina -- has been challenged as incorrect.
* * *
Many Detroiters are highly sensitive to their city's image -- they have a valid complaint that the town gets manhandled in the national news media -- and are just plain angry at the mayor for involving the city in such a tawdry affair. The largest union of municipal employees has called on him to resign.
"I'm just waiting for them to take him away in handcuffs," says Vicki Welch, a school counselor in the city, while shopping for groceries Sunday afternoon.
"The mayor is as wrong as two left shoes," chimes in a caller to a Monday morning radio show.
"He should go to jail for what he did," says Leanne Mitchell, enjoying a hot dog at the legendary Lafayette Coney Island downtown. "I couldn't care less who he's sleeping with. But it's the fact he lied on the stand. He's a liar and a cheat and he covered it up with city funds."
But business titans have so far been mostly silent.
"We're staying out of the fray," says Anne Masterson, spokeswoman for Detroit Renaissance, a nonprofit organization made up of regional corporate chiefs and various local professors, adding that the mayor is duly elected, has not been convicted of a felony and has no legal reason to resign.
"I don't think he did anything all these other politicians don't do -- Bush about Iraq, Clinton and that intern, that senator who got arrested in the bathroom and confessed and now wants to take it back," says Gennece Gantt, who says she has voted to both elect and reelect Kilpatrick. "If we're going to tell the truth, let's talk about all of them, not just about the mayor of Detroit."
"The mayor, like anyone else, deserves due process."
This is the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, the politically active pastor of the New Galilee Missionary Baptist Church. He's known Kilpatrick since they shared adjacent lockers at the downtown YMCA gym years ago. He says that many in the city are hoping to use the issue for political gain: "Five people have called me in the past two weeks to ask if I'll support them in the next mayoral election in 2009."
He notes both the progress the city has made under its dynamic young leader, and compares that to the bitter history of racial animosity that much of the surrounding region has harbored toward Detroit, a city that is 80 percent black, for decades. For those reasons, he notes that whatever Kilpatrick's sins, his fate is an internal matter that doesn't concern the rest of the area, much less the nation:
"Detroiters have a very strong sense that no matter what he's done -- legally, morally, ethically -- it's their decision to make as to what happens to him."