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Published: Wednesday, 8/13/2008

Mayoral mess

IF YOUR mayor gives you fits from time to time, consider the steadily worsening case of Detroit's Kwame Kilpatrick, known as the "hip-hop" mayor when he took office at the age of 31 six and a half years ago.

His well-known taste for a high-partying lifestyle turned into perjury charges last winter, and his political weather has become increasingly bleaker.

Already under indictment and charged with eight potential felonies, he managed to get himself tossed in jail for a night last week for violating conditions of his bond by visiting Canada without notifying the court.

The next day, in an unrelated corruption inquiry, Michigan's attorney general, Mike Cox, charged the mayor with two counts of felonious assault for allegedly shoving a sheriff's deputy who was trying to serve a subpoena on a developer who did business with the city. That would be bad enough for most mayors, but it was small potatoes compared to the original case against Mr. Kilpatrick.

The mayor is charged with everything from perjury to obstruction of justice in a case in which he swore under oath that he was not having an affair with his then-chief of staff, Christine Beatty. He also swore that the two did not conspire to fire a deputy police chief who was investigating the mayor's conduct. But a flood of steamy text messages on city-owned pagers told a very different tale.

The mayor at first had some supporters, but after the shoving incident they mostly melted away. Now, there seems to be a near-unanimous sentiment that he needs to go.

Detroit, one of the nation's poorest cities, has been in economic free fall, and the chances of attracting badly needed new investment seem slim as long as the Kilpatrick regime staggers on. But though everyone, from City Council to the mayor's own pastor, has suggested or demanded that he resign, Mr. Kilpatrick says bailing out has never entered his mind. He hints that he may run again for another four-year term next year.

Stretching out this municipal soap opera that long would be disaster, and most of the rest of Michigan realizes it. Behind the scenes, Detroit's business community, led by Compuware founder Peter Karamanos and basketball legend-turned-steel-executive Dave Bing, has been trying to quietly broker a deal for Mr. Kilpatrick to quit.

That won't be easy. The mayor is sure to insist on escaping jail time, something to which the prosecutor, Kym Worthy, may not want to agree; she thinks she has him dead to rights. It is easy to sympathize, but the fact is that Detroit, a largely impoverished city that has lost more than half the population it once had, is twisting slowly in the wind, dying a little more each day.

The mayor could, if he wished, delay any trial to sometime next year. Detroit can't afford to wait that long. According to Michigan law, the governor can, in extreme cases, remove any public official, and Gov. Jennifer Granholm has scheduled a Sept. 3 hearing.

She, and her state's residents, have to hope their urban nightmare doesn't go on quite that long.



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