Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Jack Lessenberry

Embattled Detroit mayor a problem for city, Democratic Party

DETROIT - The good news for Michigan is that it now seems certain that its entire delegation will be seated at the Democratic National Convention. And the bad news never stops.

For starters, one of those delegates will be the man who a year ago could have been listed as the Rt. Hon. Kwame Kilpatrick, mayor of Detroit. But it would be hard to say that with a straight face today.

Last week, an appeals court panel ruled, 2-1, that the embattled 38-year-old mayor should be allowed to attend the convention. Currently, he is under indictment on 10 felony counts in two separate cases, involving everything from perjury to obstruction of justice to assault, and has to wear an electronic tether.

He is viewed as a statewide and, increasingly, a national embarrassment. Virtually everyone in his city has asked him to resign, from his own pastor to the Council of Black Baptist Pastors of Detroit. But the "hip-hop" mayor he has made it clear that he isn't interested in the city's welfare, or indeed anything except his own.

And as weeks go, this had to be a mildly encouraging one for the embattled mayor - if not for his city.

Besides being allowed to attend the convention, he got more good news when a Wayne County judge ruled that the city's muddy charter did not give City Council the authority to remove him.

That may have been good news for the mayor, but put more unwanted pressure on Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who by all accounts does have the power to remove any elected official for any reason.

She is widely expected to hold a hearing into whether the mayor should be removed Sept. 3, though she still refuses to say that she will definitely do so. She apparently will, however, miss the first part of the Democratic convention to prepare for the hearing.

The governor has a reputation for avoiding the really tough decisions. But this time, she may not be able to do so. The stakes are enormous. Like the mayor, she is a Democrat.

Republicans are already working overtime to tie the nation's first-ever black presidential nominee to Mr. Kilpatrick. A video of Sen. Barack Obama saying perfunctory nice things about the mayor at a banquet is rapidly making the rounds of the Internet.

The video claims it was made this month; in fact, it was made three years ago, before any of the mayor's troubles became known.

In it, Mr. Obama says the sort of bland nice things about the mayor, his leadership, and his city that anyone says at such banquets.

Unfortunately, they sound terribly sinister and inappropriate today, which is a reflection of the Democrats' greater problem.

They won't say so openly but they fear the mayor's troubles could sabotage their chances of winning the White House. But what would the political fallout be if the governor simply removes him?

Last week, it appeared negotiators might be close to a deal in which the mayor would resign. But it apparently fell apart. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy may have been the sticking point.

The mayor is thought to be insisting that any resignation deal include no jail time, and the prosecutor is believed to feel she has him dead to rights. He automatically is removed from office if he is convicted of any felony. But any trial can be dragged out for months, maybe long enough for Mr. Kilpatrick to run for re-election next fall.

Also this week, the Wayne County prosecutor had embarrassment of her own, when she had to admit her home is in foreclosure. It was also revealed she owes the county $7,600 in unpaid property taxes. None of this was good for the city's image.

Detroit has more than image problems: The government is hemorrhaging money and the city's economy is in free fall.

Unemployment in Detroit is a depression-level 17.7 percent, about twice the statewide average, which is highest in the nation.

The city, which is having trouble balancing its books, has had to pay more than $10 million because of the mayor's woes, with no end in sight. Nobody at this point wants to bring new business to the city.

Council members openly say they do not trust the mayor or his administration. A badly needed deal to raise $65 million by selling the city's half of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel fell through.

Councilman Sheila Cockrel indicated not trusting the mayor was a big part of the reason why. But Detroit City Council has its own problems.

The FBI is investigating an unknown number of its nine members in connection with possible payoffs and a questionable deal to build a Synagro sludge-treatment plant.

Detroit is, in short, an utter mess. To say it is the city that has fallen and can't get up would sound like a clich, which it is.

But sadly, it is also all too true.

Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade's ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan.

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