Kilpatrick’s promises: smoke & character

Jan 9, 2002 at 12:00 am

By the way, I dig the earring, Mr. Mayor. Hipness counts in my book. Style might not balance the budget, but I’ve gotta say it’s cool. Maybe now some of the more uptight set can relax a bit and lay off those kids who don’t feel compelled to resemble everybody’s all-American. After all, Ozzie and Harriet are dead, and they took My Three Sons with them. Personally, I’m not mourning the loss.

Yes, I admit it. I’m a card-carrying member of the P-Funk Nation. I still have my Jimi Hendrix posters framed in my basement, and as soon as I can find the time they are going right back up on the wall next to my posters of Bob Marley and Miles Davis. I’ve had three holes in my ear for more than 10 years, and if I have my druthers I’m gonna grow old just like my hero George Clinton. What can I say? It’s just the way I’m wired.

What I’m getting at is this: It’s good to have somebody new and young in the mayor’s office. A new generational groove. That Kilpatrick is homegrown Motown makes it that much better. Nothing against Gil Hill, who I don’t think is a bad person, but I think this city needs some youth power.

Let me rephrase that. Detroit already has youth power. What it needs is somebody who has an idea of how to tap into that youth power, and I’m just hoping Mayor Kilpatrick is that somebody.

It’s not that older folks can’t ever reach the young. Nelson Mandela was over 70 years old when he was released from prison in South Africa, and his image alone sparked pride in quite a few young folks. Still, let’s face it, there does come that age when not only do the kids feel you’re too old to be relevant but so do constituents in their 20s. Though older than 30, Kilpatrick is still young enough to be considered “within reach” by the younger set.

I still remember a friend from work, probably about half my age, exhorting all our co-workers to go to the polls and vote — for Kwame Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick being a younger guy had a lot to do with his conviction. Later, when I went to the gym, where a lot of the guys are two generations or so older, it was interesting to hear folks belittle Kilpatrick as simply too young and “green” to take the reins. To them he wasn’t a symbol of hope but an inexperienced youngster in need of seasoning. Several times I heard some of them laughing about Kilpatrick’s slogan, “Our Future: Right Here, Right Now!,” as if it were some sort of schoolyard joke.

When Mayor Kilpatrick gave his big speech after his ceremonial swearing-in last week, he touched on the need to make things better for young people and to improve the city’s dilapidated public education system, but that’s to be expected. Whoever eventually won the mayor’s race would have made pretty much the same promises, although some of the details might have been different.

Similarly, Kilpatrick’s stated commitment to attack crime in Detroit was welcome, but not surprising. He introduced his choice to be the city’s new police chief, Jerry Oliver, currently the chief in Richmond, Va. The man apparently has a pretty good track record where he’s from, and hopefully he’ll be able to replicate some of those successes here in the city.

But, in the end, it’s never the stated promises or visions or dreams that mean anything. All they add up to is a mirror to be constantly thrust into the face of the dreamer. They make great copy for pundits when they provide great imagery, and they work well on large supportive audiences like the one Kilpatrick spoke to last week; after all, they’re designed to make folks feel good.

But in the end? Smoke. It hangs in the air just so long as the wind doesn’t blow. That’s why I’m not getting all giddy and excited about Mayor Kilpatrick’s stated promises or his visions, because I’ve heard and seen too many of them come and go from considerably better politicians.

Rather, what gets me a bit excited is the promise that is Kilpatrick himself. Do you see the difference I’m trying to make here? Promises given are nothing more than words and phrases that anybody can let fall from their lips like leaves falling from a tree. But the promise within someone is something else altogether. That type of promise defines who and what that person is. I believe that Kilpatrick’s promise is immense. I think he’s a good man. Whether or not he lives up to who he can be remains to be seen, but if he does? Hang on.

So I’m pulling for Mayor Kilpatrick. Seriously. The man’s got an incredibly tough job on his hands, and I’m hoping like crazy that he can manage to reach inside himself and find the strength to do whatever it takes to get this city on track. I hope he gets in touch with his own promise.

I do realize it’s probably not considered fashionable for someone who has spent the majority of his life being a paid cynic to come out and say that the new mayor is “cool.” I also realize that some folks will probably roll their eyes and say “Oh, please” when they hear me say that I dig the mayor’s earring. I’ve either already been suckered or I’ve gone soft in my old P-Funk years, right?

Then again, maybe I’m just tired of being cynical all the time, you know? Maybe I feel like this time I’d like to indulge myself, step way out on a limb and feel hopeful about a few things. Admittedly, politicians make wonderful targets for us journalists, and carving them up can be great sport. But sometimes it’s good to resist temptation.

And, hey, if I’m wrong about Kilpatrick? If he’s just another honey-toned voice wearing a pin-striped suit? Sue me. Guess I’ll just have to live to hope another day.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-based freelance writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]