Kwame's future

Jun 18, 2008 at 12:00 am

Last weekend I appeared with a trio of other sorts of journalists on Flashpoint, the local public affairs show on what, in my long ago, over-the-air childhood, was formerly known as Channel 4.

I cannot remember what I, or any of the other talking heads, babbled about. What I do remember was the astounding spectacle at the start of the show. Two lawyers, each advising Detroit City Council, sat down to debate the latest in l'affaire Kwame.

Bill Goodman, a highly respected attorney, is being paid $300 an hour to tell Detroit City Council they have the right to remove Kwame Kilpatrick from office. Robert Sedler, a distinguished professor of law at Wayne State, is being paid $300 an hour to argue that they can't remove him. (Incidentally, by way of full disclosure, I am a personal friend of Sedler's. I admire and respect him immensely, but also think that this time he is wrong.)

But it doesn't really matter who is wrong or right. None of this really matters anyway. Whatever City Council does won't result in the mayor's expulsion; the criminal trial will be over before they ever get started holding their own civil proceedings. What's going on here is sort of an elaborate fan dance and turf war, the product of a poorly written and unclear City Charter.

Whether the mayor is removed will be decided by the jury's verdict in his felony trial. (If he is convicted, he is automatically out.) Unless, that is, the mayor's lawyers manage to drag this out until the next mayoral election in November 2009.

No. What matters is that this whole mess is consuming, destroying and impoverishing Detroit. Our city, that is, regardless of where you may lay now, the city into which I was born back when it had 2 million people living here. A city where, even in its present state, there are evidently infinite taxpayer dollars for lawyers, but not enough money to feed hungry children or find their mothers homes.

A city which today is not only poor but in a state of semi-paralysis, with a leader under multiple felony indictments.

Detroit has lost convention business and will lose more. What no one will ever know is how many uncounted businesses, as well as conventions, have stopped even thinking about locating here.

So why on earth doesn't Kwame Kilpatrick resign?

When asked that, most people are so cynical and have forgotten so completely what this country is supposed to be about that they are only able to see the question in terms of Kwame's own needs.

Why, he can't resign, said Devin Scillian, the moderator of Flashpoint. How then would he raise money for his legal defense fund? He can't resign, somebody else told me last week. He needs to hang on and hold that possibility as an ultimate bargaining chip.

What nobody seems to think about is the idea that he might put the city's needs ahead of his own.

Think: In every war this nation has fought, there have been thousands and thousands of heroes who gave their lives so that others could live and so that future generations could be free. Soldiers throw themselves on grenades to save comrades; volunteer to fight hopeless rearguard actions to hold back enemy troops, even knowing it means certain death for them.

Politicians who really do have profiles in courage sometimes cast an unpopular vote or make an unpopular decision — even knowing in some cases it would cost them their careers. That's what President Gerald Ford did when he pardoned Richard Nixon. He knew it would probably cost him election; he later told me so. That's what six brave senators did when they saved our form of government by refusing to convict President Andrew Johnson, who had been impeached for cheap political reasons.

They all understood the meaning of public service: You put the interests of those you serve, and your duty, ahead of your own interests and yourself.

Under my government, everybody elected or appointed to any position from highway maintenance to president would be required to swear that they will uphold that commandment — or leave office.

Nobody I've ever met disagrees with that principle.

So again: Does anybody really think the interests of Detroit are best served by Kwame Kilpatrick staying in office? What on earth do the city or the people of Detroit stand to gain from that?

Mayor Kilpatrick talks as if he really believes that nobody else can help save the city. And, for once in this whole sorry mess, he is right. Nobody else can do what he needs to do to help the city.

Nobody can start the healing process as quickly. Nobody else can make that last vital connection that this poor, abused city needs, except the mayor, who can do it by scrawling his signature on a two-word letter that reads as follows:

I resign.

Operation Kids Count: How much did you hear last week about the annual Kids Count report? More than likely, almost nothing. Certainly not as much as you heard about floods in Iowa, or the fact that the Detroit Tigers suddenly remembered how to play baseball. But the Kids Count news was far more important.

The nationwide report on the welfare of children showed that Michigan is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to infant mortality rates. We are worse than two-thirds of all other states when it comes to how many kids we throw in jail — and we lock up three times as many minorities as we do white kids.

But what to me was scariest of all in this report was the news that the percentage of children living in poverty increased by 29 percent in a single year — and now is likely higher still than what's reflected in the latest data from 2006.

Those are children who are unlikely to do well in school, for all sorts of reasons — because they have no money for supplemental materials; because they may not be well-nourished enough to learn properly; because they are unlikely to have a dedicated nuclear family who values education, or any support structure at all, and on and on.

These kids are this state's and this nation's future, and we are destroying it. Simply, methodically, and as efficiently as if we were poisoning these kids, which in a sense we are. But there is no way I can reasonably expect you to care about that, is there? Not in a world which is holding its breath to see whether Lindsay Lohan is a lesbian or not.

You do realize we'd all be better off if the old Soviet Union were still in business, don't you?

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]