Kwame Kilpatrick was a budding political superstar when he was first elected mayor of Detroit a dozen years ago at age 31. His mother was a congressman; his father was a power in local politics. He was charismatic and full of ideas to turn his city around.
Instead, he turned out to be one of the most corrupt mayors in the city’s history. He flaunted the lifestyle of a third-world dictator, with limousines idling in the street, hordes of women, and bank accounts stuffed with ill-gotten cash.
Those who wanted city contracts had to employ or pay off his buddy, Bobby Ferguson, a thug who once went to jail for pistol-whipping an employee.
Finally, the law caught up with Kilpatrick. After doing time in state prison, he was convicted in federal court last March of crimes that included racketeering, extortion, and tax evasion.
Last Thursday, he was sentenced to 28 years in prison. Unless a future Michigan governor commutes his sentence, he will be behind bars until at least 2037. He deserves at least that much punishment.
Kilpatrick’s actions as mayor were not the main reason Detroit filed for bankruptcy, but he helped accelerate the process. While he stole or wasted millions of dollars, nobody will ever know how much he cost his city in business that stayed away rather than operate in the morass of corruption he created.
Some of the blame also rests with Detroit’s power elite and business leaders, who helped Kilpatrick win re-election even after it was clear that he was at least personally corrupt. When she sentenced Kilpatrick, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmonds said that “we are demanding accountability and transparency in our government — that where there has been corruption, there will be no more.”
Detroit is finally done with Kwame Kilpatrick. Detroiters can hope that the rest of what the judge said also comes true.