Friday, May 13, 2011

Kwame Kilpatrick Killed Detroit

I have fond memories of the Motor City.

Growing up in a northern suburb in metropolitan Detroit, it was no big deal to head downtown for fun, food and music.

I vaguely recall shopping at Hudson’s with my mom after the riots of 1967. I remember floating down the Detroit River in the early 1970s on a Boblo Boat headed for Belle Isle, an island park, with my Catholic school classmates, and visiting the Detroit Zoo on another field trip, back when monkeys would wear pink tutus and ride tricycles on stage and toot horns and make children laugh.

I remember catching a train with my little sister that departed from the old Michigan Central Station to visit an aunt in Chicago all by ourselves, and skipping school in the late ‘70s to hang out at the newly-built Renaissance Center. I once took a date to the Fisher Theater to see “Annie” and locked my keys in the car while visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts with another. The tow truck wasn’t cheap, I recall.

When the candidate for whom I was working, Jim Blanchard, won the governor’s seat in 1982, he held a party at the famous Book Cadillac Hotel. I went to Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners and political conventions at Cobo Hall and one time found myself walking down the same small hallway as the legendary and intimidating Coleman A. Young, Mayor of Detroit from 1974 to 1993, although his entourage was significantly larger than mine.

I attended a dedication ceremony for an historical marker at Hitsville U.S.A, the old Motown Studios on Grand River Avenue, and hobnobbed with Martha Reeves, Smokey Robinson and the Contours. I’ve stayed at the Pontchartrain Hotel and worked phone banks in union halls on Election Day and enjoyed jazz festivals at Hart Plaza and waved to clowns at the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I met the state’s attorney general at a rooftop party during the Detroit Grand Prix, and greeted newly-freed Nelson Mandela back in 1990 at the old Tiger Stadium on Trumbull and Michigan along with the Queen of Soul, Stevie Wonder and 49,000 other fans. I ate in Greektown and drank at The Old Shillelagh and attended a fundraiser featuring Hillary Rodham Clinton at the spectacularly-renovated Fox Theatre and experienced one of the best concerts ever, Luther Vandross and Anita Baker, from a private suite at Joe Louis Arena.

All of these memories came back to me when I heard on the radio this morning that Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor who’s cooling his heels in federal prison, is facing new corruption charges that could add 30 years to his five-year sentence.

Kilpatrick “served” as mayor from 2002 to 2008 – from what I’ve read, the city served Kilpatrick a helluva lot more than he served the city – and tarnished Detroit’s reputation in a way that extreme poverty and urban decay cannot.

Lying under oath. Scandals and corruption. Improper use of public funds. Preferential hiring. Bribery. Abuse of power. Tax evasion and mail fraud. Using his city-issued credit card to charge spa massages, extravagant dining and expensive wines and paying the impoverished city back just $9,000 of the $210,000 he charged – less than five percent – once his spending habits were discovered.

When I first heard that Tamara Greene – a 27-year-old stripper who allegedly performed at a raucous party held at the mayor’s official residence back in 2002 and angered the mayor’s wife, Carlita – was shot to death the following year by someone with the same type of gun used by Detroit Police at the time, I couldn’t believe the insinuation.

When the crude, explicit text messages he exchanged with his mistress were made public, any respect I still had for the chief executive of the 18th most populous city in the country evaporated.

And when he resigned in disgrace in September of 2008, I no longer thought of Detroit as the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II or the place where I made so many memories. I thought of it as just another cesspool to be avoided, another sad, ugly place where unethical politicians wreak havoc with public dollars while the hard-working residents suffer and pay and do without as their streets crumble and their schools close.

I resent Kwame Kilpatrick for that.

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