Kilpatrick, Kwame 1970–
Kwame Kilpatrick 1970–
Since he began his political career seven years ago, the first thing people reported about Kwame Kilpatrick was his size. It was necessary and relevant when he held the position of captain of the football team during his college days at Florida A&M. But the man with the distinction of being the youngest person to ever be elected mayor of Detroit had already done much to prove that his contributions would be remembered as well as his size before his January 2002 inauguration.
Kilpatrick was born in Detroit and raised on the city’s west side. Kilpatrick knew by the fifth grade that he wanted to be the mayor. To some this may have sounded like the dreams of a young mind, but even then his words could be taken seriously because of the excellent role models readily available. At the time, Kwame’s mother, Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, had been in office for two years of an 18-year stay as the state representative for Detroit’s 9th District. With his father working for the Wayne county executive, Kilpatrick had politics in his blood. He would have to wait several years to reach what he called his dream job, but Kilpatrick was already well on the way.
Kilpatrick attended Pelham Middle School and Cass Technical High School. He left Detroit for a brief period to attend college at Florida A&M University (FAMU), where he graduated with honors. Kilpatrick was certified as a teacher while at FAMU and received his bachelor of science degree in political science in 1992. While his teaching career began in Florida at Rickards High School, Kilpatrick was anxious to return home to get his political irons in the fire.
Upon returning to Detroit, Kilpatrick accepted a teaching position at Marcus Garvey Academy. At the academy, Kilpatrick was more than a teacher to the students. He took on the role of basketball coach and the more important role of mentor. He remained at the academy for four years but when the opportunity to enter the political arena arose, Kilpatrick was ready.
Congresswoman Cheeks Kilpatrick decided to make her transition from state representative to U.S. congresswoman
At a Glance…
Born Kwame Malik Kilpatrick in Detroit, 1970; son of Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, (US representative) and Bernard Kilpatrick; married Carlita; children: Jalil, Jelani, Jonas. Education: Florida A&M University, BS, political science; Detroit College of Law, JD.
Memberships: Michigan Bar Association; Wolverine Bar Association; Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity; Mount Pavan Lodge #2; NAACP.
Address: Mayor’ Office, City of Detroit, 1126 City County Bldg, Detroit, Michigan, United States 48226
in 1995. She won the position of U.S. representative leaving the state seat available for the obvious successor, her son. Kilpatrick won the seat vacated by his mother in 1996. This was a time of great change for the future mayor for more reasons than one. He had recently become a husband, marrying Carlita Poles, whom he met while at FAMU. Kilpatrick was also a father to twin sons, Jalil and Jelani.
Kilpatrick maintained a residence on Detroit’s west side and split time between Lansing and home. By 1998 he helped develop the $675 million Clean Michigan Initiative. Kilpatrick was able to designate 60 percent of the funds to Detroit; both Michigan’s largest city and the one most in need. He also helped secure millions of dollars to fight lead poisoning in the city. At the time, more child-related lead poisoning cases were reported in Detroit then throughout the rest of the state combined.
He was still doing great things for the city and proving himself to fellow representatives when the opportunity arose to run for state house minority leader in 2000. Though many thought the representative was too young, he won the position in January of 2001. Kilpatrick set his first precedents by becoming not only the first African American to be chosen as minority leader but also the youngest person to ever hold that position at the age of 30.
Kilpatrick was just getting into the role of minority leader when in April of 2001, Detroit’s mayor, Dennis Archer, announced that he would not be running for re-election. With this news, Kilpatrick saw the opportunity to take on the job he had dreamed of since 1980. Once again the main obstacle Kilpatrick faced on the campaign trail was his age; people thought he was too young. He would be the youngest person ever to be elected to the position of mayor in Detroit’s history. But that didn’t stop Kilpatrick. Not even when doubts came from critics overseas. “At 31, Kwame Kilpatrick may seem to some to be too young to lead a city renowned for it’s decades of decay,” reported the BBC News. The BBC however, also spoke the minds of many of the Detroit voters when they commented, “[h]is presence, however, is commanding, and his call for government reform much welcomed.”
Kilpatrick joined the race, trailing a group of 21 candidates, but by the primary election on September 11, 2001, Kilpatrick walked away with 50.2 percent of the votes compared to 34.4 percent for his closest front runner, Detroit Councilman Gill Hill. Kilpatrick won the election for the office on November 6, 2001 and was sworn in January 4, 2002 as mayor of Detroit. In his inaugural speech he outlined his three point initiative for the term; to improve the police department, to begin Mayor’s Time, a program for the cities youth, and to head a citywide clean up effort.
This again marked a time of personal change for the mayor. His wife had just given birth to his third son, Jonas. Carlita plans to stand by Kilpatrick’s side and be there for their children throughout his term. She says her role is to help Kilpatrick realize his civic dreams. “I want to try to come up with something unique,” she said to the Detroit News. “We’re going to work in partnership.” She also stressed that she not be compared to other political wives who have used their husband’s positions to thrust themselves into the limelight.
And part of Kilpatrick’s dream was to let the people of Detroit know how sincere he was about creating a better city. “My family dwells within the walls of the city of Detroit,”, he said to the Detroit News, ” This position is personal to me. It’s much more than just politics.”
Campaigns & Elections, October 2001.
Crains Detroit Business, November 20, 2000; January 21, 2001; January 7, 2002; March 18, 2002.
Detroit News, January 5, 2002, March 10, 2002.
Jet, November 26, 2001.
BBC News www.bbc.co.uk
Biography Resource Center, http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC
Detroit Student Voices, student-voices.org
Kwame Kilpatrick was the youngest mayor to lead the city of Detroit, Michigan, and the city's first mayor to resign the office after being charged with a felony. What began as an administration full of promise for both Kilpatrick and the beleaguered city in 2002 ended in scandal, ignominy, and near financial disaster after several years of rumors and reports that tied the mayor to everything from lying under oath to the murder of an exotic dancer. When Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to two felony counts in a plea agreement in September of 2008, he addressed the people of Detroit: "For those who have supported me through the years … I thank you with all my heart…. I know supporting me has not always been easy, but you have to know that it has not been boring, either."
Raised in a Politically Active Family
Kwame Malik Kilpatrick was born in Detroit and raised on the city's west side. Kilpatrick knew by the fifth grade that he wanted to be the mayor. At the time, his mother, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, was serving in the Michigan State House of Representatives, a position she held from 1979 to 1996, when she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. With his father working as an aide to the county's highest executive, Kilpatrick had politics in his blood.
Kilpatrick attended the arts-focused magnet school Lewis Cass Technical High School. He left Detroit to attend college at Florida A&M University (FAMU), where he graduated with honors. Kilpatrick was certified as a teacher while at FAMU and received his bachelor of science degree in political science in 1992.
After teaching at Rickards High School in Tallahassee, Florida, Kilpatrick accepted a teaching position at Marcus Garvey Academy and returned to Detroit. At the school Kilpatrick took on the role of basketball coach and the more important role of mentor. He remained at the academy for four years, but when the opportunity to enter politics arose, Kilpatrick was ready. He earned a law degree in 1999 at Michigan State University's Detroit College of Law.
Elected to State House of Representatives
Congresswoman Kilpatrick decided to make her transition from state representative to U.S. representative in 1995. She won the congressional election, leaving the state seat available. Kilpatrick won the seat vacated by his mother in 1996, when he was just twenty-six years old. By that time, he also had married Carlita Poles, whom he met while at FAMU, and the couple had twin sons, Jalil and Jelani.
As a state representative Kilpatrick split his time between the state capital in Lansing and his home on the west side of Detroit. By 1998 he helped develop the $675 million Clean Michigan Initiative. Kilpatrick was able to designate 60 percent of the funds to Detroit, which was both Michigan's largest city and the one most in need. He also helped secure millions of dollars to fight lead poisoning in the city. At the time, more child-related lead poisoning cases were reported in Detroit then throughout the rest of the state combined. Other priorities for Kilpatrick included expanded health care for the poor and elderly, school safety, and environmental clean-up of the city.
He was still doing great things for the city and proving himself to fellow representatives when the opportunity arose to run for state house minority leader in 2000. Though many thought he was too young, he won the position in January of 2001. Kilpatrick was not only the first African American to be chosen as minority leader but also the youngest person to ever hold that position, at the age of thirty. Kilpatrick stepped into the national spotlight at the Democratic National Conventions in 2000 and 2004, when he was given speaking spots at both. He was named by the Democratic Leadership Council as an up-and-coming young Democrat to watch.
Ran a Successful Bid for Mayor
Kilpatrick was just settling into the role of minority leader when in April of 2001 Dennis Archer, the mayor of Detroit, announced that he would not run for reelection. With this news, Kilpatrick saw the opportunity to take on the job he had dreamed of since 1980. Once again the main obstacle Kilpatrick faced on the campaign trail was his age; people thought he was too young. He would be the youngest person ever to be elected to the position of mayor in Detroit's history. "At 31 … Kilpatrick may seem to some to be too young to lead a city renowned for its decades of decay," reported David Schepp of the BBC News. "His presence, however, is commanding, and his call for government reform much welcomed."
Kilpatrick joined the race, trailing a group of twenty-one candidates. By the primary election on September 11, 2001, however, Kilpatrick walked away with 50.2 percent of the votes, compared with 34.4 percent for his closest competitor, the Detroit city councilman Gill Hill. Kilpatrick won the election for the office on November 6, 2001, and was sworn in January 4, 2002, as mayor of Detroit. In his inaugural speech he outlined a three-point initiative for the term: to improve the police department; to begin Mayor's Time, a program for the city's youth; and to head a citywide cleanup effort. An important part of Kilpatrick's approach was to let the people of Detroit know how sincere he was about creating a better city. "My entire family dwells within the walls of the city of Detroit," he said in the Detroit News. "This position is personal to me. It's much more than just politics."
Kilpatrick, who had inherited a troubled city with declining industry, an underfunded and underperforming school system, persistent poverty and unemployment, and a disastrous national image, brought a sense of hope to Detroit, and during his tenure he achieved several remarkable feats that appeared to put the city on the road to national prominence, most notably hosting Major League Baseball's All-Star Game at Comerica Park in 2005 and the National Football League's Super Bowl XL at Ford Field in 2006. Both events were hailed in the national press as outstanding. Businesses and suburban residents—who had largely fled the city following the racial-based civil unrest of the late 1960s—flocked to downtown Detroit, and, for the first time in decades, new residential housing boomed in the city.
At a Glance …
Born Kwame Malik Kilpatrick on June 6, 1970, in Detroit, MI; son of Bernard Kilpatrick and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (U.S. representative); married Carlita Poles, 1995; children: Jalil, Jelani, Jonas. Education: Florida A&M University, BS, political science, 1992; Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University, JD, 1999.
Career: Rickards High School, Tallahassee, FL, teacher; Marcus Garvey Academy, Detroit, teacher and basketball coach, 1992-96; Michigan House of Representatives, state representative, 1996-2002; mayor, 2002-08.
Memberships: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity; Mount Pavan Lodge Number 2; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Addresses: Home—Detroit, MI.
Earned Unsavory Reputation
At the same time, however, Kilpatrick's lifestyle in the mayor's residence, the Manoogian Mansion, was growing more lavish and less scrupulous, earning him a reputation as the "hip-hop mayor"—a moniker many of the city's black residents, who still largely supported the mayor, found insulting. Rumors circulated of wild parties featuring strippers, one of whom ended up killed in a drive-by shooting shortly after her alleged appearance at a Kilpatrick-hosted gathering that was said to have included a confrontation with Carlita Kilpatrick. Further outrage erupted when it was discovered that Kilpatrick had used city funds to lease a Lincoln Navigator for his wife's personal use and spent city money for travel and entertainment. Many observers were shocked when Kilpatrick won his bid for reelection in 2005.
Things began to unravel for Kilpatrick when two Detroit police officers—Deputy Chief Gary Brown and Harold Nelthrope, who had been assigned to the mayor's security detail—brought a suit against the city and the mayor's office alleging the state's Whistleblower Protection Act had been violated when they were fired for taking part in an internal investigation into claims of misconduct in the mayor's security detail. One allegation in particular would eventually derail the mayor's career altogether: that Kilpatrick had used his city-issued security unit to cover up extramarital affairs, including one with Christine Beatty, his chief of staff. Both Kilpatrick and Beatty denied under oath that they had ever been involved romantically, and Kilpatrick maintained that Brown had not been fired but "unassigned." The lynchpin of the officers' accusations was a notorious party in the fall of 2002, at which exotic dancer Tamara Greene had performed and allegedly been assaulted by the mayor's wife, who returned home unexpectedly during the party. Michigan attorney general Mike Cox and the Michigan State Police investigated the allegations but never found any concrete evidence that the party had even happened. Cox called the party an urban legend, and the investigation was dropped. Brown, Nelthrope, and others in the city's department of internal affairs continued to look into the case.
In the meantime, on April 30, 2003, Tamara Greene was shot to death outside the strip club where she worked. A Detroit police lieutenant named Alvin Bowman, who was investigating the case, claimed in an affidavit that Greene had been shot with a police-issued weapon and that his evidence indicated that a police officer had done the shooting. According to Bowman, Greene had long been involved in prostitution, drugs, and money laundering and was demanding money from the mayor's office to keep quiet about the 2002 party. Bowman maintained she was murdered in retaliation by someone trying to cover up corruption in the Kilpatrick administration. The official investigation, however, failed to support Bowman's claims. According to the police report, Greene could have been killed by any number of men, including two with whom she had gotten into a scuffle at a motel party two weeks before her death. Bowman claimed he was prevented from investigating any further by Police Chief Jerry Oliver and his successor, Ella Bully-Cummings, and that the department even went so far as to alter police records. Lawyers representing the city and the mayor called Bowman's charges ridiculous. In 2008 a former city employee named Joyce Carolyn Rogers came forward in a signed affidavit claiming she had seen a police report in late 2002 that described an altercation between Greene and Carlita Kilpatrick at the Manoogian Mansion on the night that the party supposedly took place. Rogers has not, however, proven to be a credible witness, and Greene's murder remained unsolved.
On September 11, 2007, the jury in the trial at Wayne County Circuit Court found in favor of Brown and Nelthrope, awarding them a combined $6.5 million. Outraged, Kilpatrick planned to appeal, but a deal was struck a few weeks later after the mayor learned that evidence may have surfaced proving that Kilpatrick and Beatty had perjured themselves when they denied having an affair. Kilpatrick agreed to an $8.4 million settlement, to be paid to Brown, Nelthrope, and Walter Harris, a plaintiff in another lawsuit against the city. The Detroit City Council approved the settlement agreement despite the anger of many Detroit residents, who believed they were being made to pay for the mayor's indiscretions. Still, Detroit residents thought the worst was behind them and the mayor could move beyond the scandals toward the more important business of running the city.
Caught in Text-Messaging Scandal
In January of 2008 the Detroit Free Press obtained and published sexually charged excerpts from some of the fourteen thousand text messages sent between Kilpatrick and Beatty. The messages proved the two had lied under oath about the nature of their relationship and also that Brown was in fact fired. Beatty resigned days later. A contrite Kilpatrick appeared on Detroit television with his wife, explaining they had been through difficult times and all had been forgiven. Kilpatrick's pastor even went public, assuring the city that he was counseling the mayor. Kilpatrick further outraged many citizens on March 11, however, when in his annual state-of-the-city address he likened media coverage of the case to a lynch mob and used the N-word. On March 18, the city council passed a nonbinding resolution asking Kilpatrick to resign, with one council member dissenting. Business leaders, city council members, and others also called for the mayor to step down, but he refused, saying the situation was a private matter.
Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy disagreed, finding the evidence of perjury and other misconduct to be a very public matter. She launched an investigation and, on March 24, 2008, announced she was filing twelve felony counts—including perjury, obstruction of justice, misconduct, and conspiracy—against Kilpatrick and Beatty. At a news conference, Worthy disputed city attorneys' charges that the case was guided by prurience. "Let me be very, very clear," Worthy said. "This was not an investigation focused on lying about sex. Gary Brown, Harold Nelthrope, and Walter Harris, their lives were forever changed. They were ruined financially and their reputations were completely destroyed because they chose to be dutiful police officers. The public trust was violated. This investigation is whether public dollars were used unlawfully and much, much more." Among the things revealed in the text messages was the city's awarding $45 million in contracts to Bobby Ferguson, a local businessman and friend of Kilpatrick and Beatty, after passing him information on other contractors' bids and plans. Due to the amount of suspected nepotism in city hiring during his tenure, Kilpatrick's administration earned the label "the friends and family plan."
Once the charges were announced on March 24, Beatty turned herself in to the Wayne County Sheriff's Department, and Kilpatrick followed later in the day. Both were fingerprinted, and the mug shots taken showed up on the evening news. Detroit Free Press editorial page editor Ron Dzwonkowski was quoted by the Associated Press as saying of Kilpatrick after the booking, "At this point, he's more trouble than he's worth. It seems pretty clear it's going to be months getting this resolved. He's the city's public image. At best, he's a distraction, and at worst, he's a bad guy in a position with a lot of power." Furthermore, the Detroit Free Press called for the mayor to resign before things got even worse.
Jailed for Violating Bond
As the case dragged on through the summer and Detroit residents steadily lost patience with the mayor's defiant attitude about his legal troubles, Kilpatrick found himself in another sticky situation. In August of 2008 he was found to have violated his bond agreement by leaving the country without permission. Kilpatrick maintained he had no choice but to attend meetings in Windsor, Ontario—just across the Detroit River—to work on a deal to sell Detroit's half of the underwater tunnel connecting the two countries. In court Kilpatrick apologized for his mistake and asked Judge Ronald Giles for lenience. Giles rejected the plea, revoked Kilpatrick's bond, and sent him to the Wayne County Jail for a night.
When he was released the next day, Kilpatrick found himself in trouble yet again, this time due to a July incident in which the mayor had allegedly shoved and injured a Wayne County sheriff's deputy and another officer trying to serve a subpoena to Kilpatrick's friend Bobby Ferguson. The mayor was charged with assaulting an officer and booked on August 9. At his arraignment he pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys maintained the exchange between Kilpatrick and the officers had been friendly. Judge Thomas Jackson of the U.S. Circuit Court ordered Kilpatrick to wear an ankle monitor and remain in the Detroit metropolitan area. After posting a $25,000 bond, Kilpatrick returned to work at city hall later in the day. He did, however, eventually agree not to petition the court to attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver later in the month, even though he was a Democratic Party super-delegate.
At the urging of the Detroit City Council, Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm agreed to schedule a hearing to explore the possibility of removing Kilpatrick from office. From a legal standpoint, Granholm was the only person with authority to force Kilpatrick's resignation, but she had until then been reluctant to interfere in the legal process. Not surprisingly, the lead-up to the hearing did not go smoothly, with Kilpatrick's attorneys attempting to block Granholm from proceeding. When the hearing finally began on September 3, Kilpatrick was not present. Public scrutiny, however, was intense, with Detroit residents divided between those who continued to support the mayor and those who demanded punishment. Anti-Kilpatrick protesters marched outside the building, and longtime Detroit news broadcasters weighed in with televised editorials. One thing everyone agreed on was the need for closure to the case so that the city could move forward.
Resigned in Disgrace
The next day closure came: Kilpatrick turned himself in and admitted to two counts of obstruction of justice in exchange for the prosecutor's office dropping the remaining six charges, including the perjury counts. According to the terms of the plea agreement, Kilpatrick would resign from office, give up his law license and state pension, serve four months in the Wayne County Jail, spend five years on probation, and pay $1 million in restitution to the city. He also pleaded no contest to one of the assault charges pending against him. Prosecutor Worthy had hoped the mayor would spend six months in jail, but in general she was pleased with the results, commenting, "You have to have some consequences for your actions. You don't just lose your job."
Kilpatrick officially left office and moved out of the Manoogian Mansion on September 18, 2008. Beatty, who had been expected to accept a plea deal of her own, instead chose to take her chances with a jury. Her trial was set to begin in January of 2009; if convicted, she faced nineteen to thirty months in jail. Police Chief Bully-Cummings resigned shortly after Kilpatrick did. On September 19, City Council president Ken Cockrel Jr. was sworn in as interim mayor. Cockrel's first official acts were appointing a deputy mayor and a police chief. When he resigned in court, Kilpatrick delivered a defiant twenty-minute speech in which he questioned Governor Granholm's motives for pursuing the removal hearing and declared, "I want to tell you, Detroit, that you done set me up for a comeback."
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—Leslie Rochelle and Nancy Dziedzic