Kwame Kilpatrick, former Mayor of Detroit

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Kwame Kilpatrick
Former Mayor of Detroit
By Andrew Stevens

4 June 2008: Mockingly dubbed the 'hip-hop mayor', labelled one of America's worst and then written off after placing second in his re-election primary, Detroit's Kwame Kilpatrick staged one of 2005's greatest political comebacks by confounding critics and returning to city hall for a second term. The mayor's grip on city hall has weakened during his second term however, with a scandal of an affair with an aide and his bizarre claim to be on assignment from God in his defence.  At 37 Kilpatrick is one of the youngest big city mayors in America.

5 September 2008 update: Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has agreed to step down from office and plead guilty to two felony misconduct charges that stem from a sex scandal. Kilpatrick admitted to two counts of obstruction of justice Thursday, 4 September, in a Michigan courtroom, after his lawyers struck a deal with prosecutors. As part of the plea agreement, Kilpatrick must serve four months in jail and pay $1 million in restitution. He also is barred from holding public office for five years.

9 November 2009 update:
Detroit’s Dave Bing was elected to his first full term of office, having won the city’s special election to replace the ousted Kwame Kilpatrick in May. The former pro-basketball player beat three-time challenger Tom Barrow 56-41 per cent. The elections ushered in a new leadership to the rest of the city council, which has been beset by a number of governance challenges in recent years, suggesting a public appetite for change. More

31 March 2010: Profile of Detroit Mayor Bing

Born in 1970, Kilpatrick attended Detroit’s Pelham Middle School and Cass Technical High School.  After graduating the selective school, he attended Florida A&M University where he obtained a BSc in political science. He also holds a Juris Doctorate from the Detroit College of Law. Before attaining elected office, Kilpatrick worked as a teacher in the Detroit public schools system. Kilpatrick’s biography on the Detroit City website claims he holds a teaching certificate from Florida A&M but recent media reports claim the university deny this.

Kilpatrick began his political career at an early age when he succeeded his mother in the Michigan State House of Representatives at just 26. He went on to lead the Democrats in the state legislature as minority leader, the first Afro-American to do so. He came to national prominence when he addressed the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles and spoke again at the 2004 Boston convention. During his stint in the legislature he brokered the Clean Michigan Initiative which promoted urban renewal through new funding and also secured a deal to preserve healthcare funding for those on low incomes. In 2000, the Democratic Leadership Council, the modernising faction that came to prominence under Clinton and Gore, tipped Kilpatrick as 'one to watch'.  He is Vice President of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors and also a trustee of the US Conference of Mayors.

In January 2008 it was disclosed that the married mayor had sent salacious text messages to his chief of staff Christine Beatty. The messages contradicted a sworn statement made by the mayor that he had not had a physical relationship with Ms Beatty. The messages were said to have been exchanged over two-month periods in 2002 and 2003 and showed the two planning to meet in hotel rooms and recounting their sexual relations.  Dismissing calls to resign, he then claimed in an radio interview that he was on assignment from God in his position as mayor.

In 2001 Kilpatrick used his Detroit seat to run for the mayoralty, defeating city council president and former police chief Gil Hill 54% to 46%. However, getting elected proved to be the first of several battles before his 2005 re-election contest when victory was far from assured. The city’s media homed in on the mayor’s lavish lifestyle, his leasing a Lincoln sedan for his wife using city funds and the charging of $210,000 to city for entertaining raised more than a few eyebrows.

A stripper party at the mayoral mansion merely exacerbated Kilpatrick’s poor standing, earning him the sobriquet of ‘hip-hop mayor’ on account of his ‘bling’ lifestyle. Kilpatrick’s supporters however saw this as a racist slur. Local media scrutiny was nothing compared to the unhelpful election year intervention by Time Magazine when it labelled Kilpatrick one of America’s worst mayors. Kilpatrick has repeatedly claimed that he has presided over a reversal of the city’s poor finances, inherited from Dennis Archer’s administration, though critics on the council and among staff have blasted the scale of his cuts to services.

In the 2 August 2005 primary for his re-election, Kilpatrick polled second to lead challenger Freman Hendrix, former deputy mayor under Dennis Archer, with Archer’s former designated successor Sharon McPhail in third place. Kilpatrick was Detroit’s first incumbent mayor in over 50 years to poll second in the primary and local newspapers had endorsed Hendrix’s campaign. However, Kilpatrick regained the ground initially lost to Hendrix by the time of the November election, emerging with 53% of the vote to Hendrix’s 47%. During this time, Hendrix was accused of running a hubristic campaign while Kilpatrick’s role in the memorial service for civil rights leader Rosa Parks enabled him to rise in the estimation of many critical voters.

In spite of his national civic offices, Kilpatrick languishes under the constant threat of ouster from office by the city council and even prosecution. While matters remain at a legal impasse over whether or not the city council is competent enough to remove him, both the local media and many city residents continue to call for his departure, though the mayor himself remains in defiant pose and firmly wedded to occupancy of his office. To add a touch of hubris to the proceedings, Kilpatrick recently launched his own television chatshow. The mayor's activities have seen him compared to Bill Clinton and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, proving at least that he is still thought of as a political heavyweight in more ways than one.

Detroit operates under the strong mayor-council model, with the city council of nine members all elected on an at-large basis. The city sits in Wayne County, Michigan. First best known as the centre of US automobile production, Detroit was then famed as the city of the Motown sound in the 1960s, before the burgeoning Detroit techno scene of the 1990s made the city’s name globally resonate once again.

Mayor Kilpatrick is married to wife Carlita and they have three children. His mother Caroline is a Congresswoman and his father Bernard worked for Wayne County’s former County Executive.

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