Yet More Trouble For Detroit Mayor

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's use of the N-Word in a recent speech adds to his political headaches.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's use of the N-Word in a recent speech adds to his political headaches. (By Carlos Osorio -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 17, 2008

The calls for Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's resignation are growing louder as some of Michigan's most powerful public officials described the mayor's use of the N-word during his recent State of the City speech as a new low.

In the Tuesday speech, Kilpatrick (D) said he is being called the racial pejorative more than ever since recently disclosed text messages indicated an affair between the mayor and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, as well as possible financial wrongdoing involving tens of millions of dollars. Kilpatrick also ripped City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr., who joined several council members in defying tradition by refusing to join the mayor onstage.

Kilpatrick, who is African American, defended his use of the word through his media relations staff, saying he wanted people to know the harshness of the letters, including "death threats," he has received.

But in a meeting on the morning after the speech, Detroit industrialist Dave Bing and two of Kilpatrick's most powerful business allies told him that his words had hurt Detroit and that he was losing credibility. A spokeswoman for Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (D) said the governor was "shocked" that the mayor used the word, which she condemns. Critics said the speech harkened back to the racial tension that defined Detroit and its suburbs during the mayoral administration of Coleman Young.

"Injecting race into this is setting the city back and setting the region back and setting the state back," said Mike Cox, the state's attorney general, who called on the mayor to resign.

The Rev. Horace Sheffield, pastor of New Galilee Missionary Baptist Church of Detroit, said others injected race into the situation, not the mayor. "Because of my support for the mayor, I get racist, threatening mail and phone calls to my church, so I can imagine that he gets them. I don't excuse what the mayor did, but I support him and I support the city."

Kilpatrick's troubles include the affair with Beatty, a criminal probe by the Wayne County prosecutor to determine if he lied during sworn testimony in a police whistle-blower case to hide the affair, an investigation by the City Council to determine if he agreed to an $8.4 million settlement in the case to keep the text messages secret, and suggestions that he gave an edge to a friend in city contract negotiations. The situation has drawn comparisons to the allegations of affairs that led to impeachment hearings against President Bill Clinton and the resignation of New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer (D).

The crisis comes while Detroit is trying to recover from its reputation as the most unlivable city in the Rust Belt. Kilpatrick and his predecessor, Dennis Archer, managed to lure major business and entertainment enterprises to revive downtown. Three new gambling casinos pour millions in taxes and fees into city coffers.

But Detroit faces a $100 million budget deficit that has closed fire stations. The tax base continues to shrink as middle-class residents move to the suburbs. Three thousand students have left the schools in each of the past three years. Although the city builds more houses than does any other in Michigan, its foreclosure rate is the highest in the nation.

"We have a lot of unemployment. We're trying to build a new convention center. We're trying to build a new bridge to Canada, and the mayor is stopping the discussion of all of that," said Cox, the attorney general. "He is grinding the city to a halt. A public official can't go anywhere in the state of Michigan without having to talk about him."

Reginald Turner, an attorney at a Detroit law firm, cautioned against a rush to judgment. "I believe the mayor has a right to maintain his position until there is some compelling reason for him to go," Turner said.

"At this point, the mayor has not been charged with anything, let alone convicted of anything," Turner said. "President Clinton didn't resign and leave office when he was involved in controversy. He managed to get a number of good things done in his last two years in office. Spitzer admitted that he committed a crime and then resigned. The mayor has not indicated that he believes he committed a crime."

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy extended to next week an investigation that could lead to perjury charges against Kilpatrick and Beatty, who has resigned. Meanwhile, the City Council subpoenaed the two, along with city lawyers, to question them about why they settled the police case and to ask why they failed to informed the council of those reasons.

Cox, who was trained by Worthy at the Wayne County court before he became the state's top law enforcement official, said that perjury is hard to prove, and that Worthy might conclude that "it might not be chargeable beyond a reasonable doubt."


© 2008 The Washington Post Company