Kwame Kilpatrick case reaches far and wide

Guest Editorials
The story of Kwame Kilpatrick — the former Detroit mayor convicted of two dozen serious charges March 11 — is a tale of squandered opportunities.

For Kilpatrick, the larger-than-life, so-called hip-hop mayor, it likely means that much of the remainder of his adult life will be spent behind bars.

It didn’t have to be this way. This could have been a time when the smart, charismatic, politically connected early achiever was looking at his next big career leap. Instead of hearing a chorus
of guilty verdicts in a federal courthouse, Kilpatrick could be sitting on 12 years as a successful mayor of the state’s largest city. As at least one pundit said, a man in that position would be the odds-on favorite to follow Carl Levin once the venerable U.S. senator from Michigan retires in two years.

But Kilpatrick is nowhere near that position, as he already sacrificed the mayor’s office after a tawdry text-messaging scandal forced his resignation and earned him a relatively short stay in the slammer.

Now, he is facing significant prison time after a 10-year federal
probe into a corrupt pay-to-play city environment. The high-stakes trial resulted in 24 convictions on charges including racketeering, extortion, bribery and mail, wire and tax fraud.

It’s a personal tragedy, to be sure. No matter how criminal his actions, he is a son, father and husband, and he will lose his freedom and his family life for perhaps two decades. For a man once headed for great heights, it is a devastating turn of events.
He brought it on himself. But it is sad nonetheless.

It is even worse for his struggling city and the citizens who wrongly looked to Kilpatrick for leadership. The bribes and kickbacks all came at the expense of families looking to live in a safe, working community. Contractors who were held up by the city’s criminal enterprise merely jacked up the cost of their projects, taking away needed resources from a city that needs every dime it can muster.

That’s the big crime. If not for the corruption, how much better
could Detroit be today? How many streetlights could be working?
How much safer might the streets be? How many deserted homes could have been demolished?

How much additional support could have been found for the many unselfish people putting their hearts into efforts to revive this once great city?

Instead of choosing greatness, Kilpatrick chose to enrich himself
on the backs of the people he was elected to serve.

This is not just a Detroit tragedy, as it resonates throughout
the region and the state. Detroit is the state’s core. The region struggles forward despite a stagnant central city. Imagine how bright the future would be if there were a vibrant, forward-looking Detroit.

But that’s not the case today. The city has a horrifying murder
rate. Its unemployment rate and high school dropout rate are scandalously high. It’s in financial ruin, waiting for a state-appointed emergency manager to take the reins and make the decisions that elected officials couldn’t or wouldn’t.

Although there are many promising signs, the city nonetheless
is seen to many outsiders as a decaying, Rust Belt shambles;
its better times merely a fog-shrouded memory.

Now, it will make headlines again. Not as a gritty comeback city. But as the home to one of the nation’s all-time great civic corruption cases.

A former mayor will go to prison, but it’s the reputation of the region that will continue doing time.