“Rich, it’s just something that black folks here don’t even want to talk about.” This was the sentiment conveyed to me by my good friend and former college roommate, Marcus, when describing the political fiasco taking shape in his native Detroit.
Even over the phone, Marcus’ voice evidenced a palpable sense of embarrassment as he described the profound effect that the alleged moral and legal transgressions of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick have had on the city of Detroit.
In the spirit of the Motown classic, “I heard it through the grapevine,” the two terms of Mayor Kilpatrick have been marked by rumors and innuendos that once made their municipal rounds via the hushed conversations of city employees, but have now escalated into nationally covered allegations and a recent indictment.
As he assumed control of the city of Detroit in 2002, the 31-year-old graduate of Florida A&M University held the distinction of being the youngest mayor in the city’s history. Born and raised in America’s Motor City, Kilpatrick’s political pedigree includes his mother, Michigan Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick; father Bernard Kilpatrick, the former chief of staff to the Wayne County executive; and his aunt, Marsha Cheeks, a Michigan state legislator.
With political roots that run as deep as Lake Michigan and a charismatic personality embodied within an imposing physical frame, the former captain of the FAMU football team could have galvanized Detroit and ushered in a new era of revitalization for the city. Instead, by the end of his first term in office, Time magazine had him listed as one of the top 3 worst mayors in the country.
You sort of knew that the first term would end badly, when during the fall of 2002 the first controversy of the Kilpatrick regime took shape.
It began with a rumor about a party at the Manoogian Mansion, the official residence of the Detroit mayor, at which exotic dancers were allegedly present and one in particular drew the ire of Detroit first lady Carlita Kilpatrick.
According to allegations and witness accounts from former members of the mayor’s Executive Protection Unit, Mrs. Kilpatrick returned home to the mansion unexpectedly to find the mayor and the strippers. The awkward moment apparently spiraled further downward when Mrs. Kilpatrick allegedly assaulted one of the dancers.
Despite denials that the party ever occurred, and the state Attorney General Mike Cox’s characterization of the party as an “urban legend …that should be treated as such,” it definitely raised eyebrows and questions when one Tamara Greene, aka “Strawberry,” a self-proclaimed exotic dancer at the party, was murdered a few months later in a drive-by shooting.
With clouds of questions swirling over the young mayor, a storm of controversy swelled when Gary Brown, the deputy chief of police and head of the city’s police internal affairs department, was relieved of his post by the mayor.
Effectively fired after initiating an investigation based on intelligence he received about improprieties perpetrated by members of the mayor’s Executive Protection Unit, Brown and the other whistleblowers took the city to court in a trial that cost the Detroit taxpayers $845, 282 and an additional $8.4 million settlement for the three officers involved in the suit.
The trial cost the citizens of Detroit a substantial amount of their hard-earned money, but would ultimately cost Mayor Kilpatrick and a secret lover a whole lot more.
Richard McCulloch • RichMcCulloch@Hotmail.com