Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick does not have a lot going for him these days. Administering a city that is burdened with a financial crisis and several failing departments, Kilpatrick has not been the driving force in promoting good trends or jumpstarting the city’s “renaissance,” as he promised when running for office. Recent personal troubles have only illustrated Kilpatrick’s propensity for corruption and waste — further accentuating the city’s continued ailments. Kilpatrick’s troubles have illustrated he might not only fail to turn the city around, but also contribute to its decline.
While launching a number of economic initiatives without success, Detroit has been plagued by its own internal failures. After steady declines in the city’s murder rate, 2004 began with a spate of killings driving the rate up 50 percent through April. The police department, charged with protecting citizens, is itself facing serious challenges. Charges were filed against the department in late 2003, claiming it conspired to violate the civil rights of citizens by planting drugs and guns on suspects and illegally searching homes. Three officers have pled guilty and admitted to violating the civil rights of suspects by writing false police reports. With Police Chief Jerry Oliver resigning from his position in 2003 and Kilpatrick firing the Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown in May 2004, the department has been plagued by a lack of quality leadership. The mayor has been unable to restore credibility in the police department, and with all the credibility problems of his own, it’s difficult not to criticize Kilpatrick’s inability to do so.
Kilpatrick cannot be held solely responsible for the city’s failing internal management, but his failure to fully address and resolve these issues, while mired in his own personal troubles, have not improved his position, or the city’s. Numerous scandals have afflicted Kilpatrick — the most recent being the purchase of a Lincoln Navigator with $25,000 of the city’s dollars for his wife. Kilpatrick and city officials initially claimed the police department leased the Navigator, but after a dispute between one of Kilpatrick’s security guards and a reporter in Washington last week, Kilpatrick admitted the car was intended for the use of his wife.
Other Kilpatrick scandals include personal problems with the city’s police and several nightclub incidents. Kilpatrick was recently denied after-hours very important person protection in Washington because Secret Service officials claimed his nightclub hopping compulsion might result in embarrassment or injury to their security team. State Attorney General Michael Cox conducted another investigation of the mayor and his security detail on claims of drunken driving, falsified overtime sheets and an alleged party at the mayor’s residence. Cox found no criminal activity, but revealed parts of the mayor’s security detail had racked up excessive overtime while working.
Because Kilpatrick is the youngest mayor of any major U.S. city and embraces hip-hop culture, some argue he has been singled out for scrutiny. Kilpatrick himself responds to criticism by arguing that the media does not accept his cultural background. However, despite the media’s inclination to overblow scandals, it is fair to acknowledge that Kilpatrick’s reign has been particularly rocky. Furthermore, claims that Kilpatrick is victimized because he comes from a simple background are flawed — his mother is a congresswoman.
Although $25,000 for a new SUV hardly burdens a city’s budget, and Kilpatrick’s other numerous personal troubles cannot fundamentally explain the city’s woes, the scandals certainly do not help. Kilpatrick’s answer to the city’s budget deficits has been to cut costs — laying off nearly 700 workers, removing more than 200 vacant positions, asking all employees to take pay and benefit cuts and, ironically, eliminating city vehicles. The SUV purchase certainly sends the wrong message, creates a bad image of the city and begs questions of Kilpatrick’s leadership.
The city of Detroit deserves a mayor who will run a reliable government and continue to implement the necessary solutions to revive the failing city. While it was not expected that Kilpatrick would take office and relieve the city of its troubles, he has not pointed the city in the right direction. The list of scandals plaguing Kilpatrick should force Detroit citizens to question if Kilpatrick provides the leadership necessary for the future of Detroit.