Tale of 2 Kwames

Jul 30, 2008 at 12:00 am

It seems that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick just can't help playing the bad boy.Last week he held one of his ongoing "Conversation with the Mayor" gatherings with local performing artists. I was among the 200 or so guests gathered on the riverfront behind Manoogian Mansion as the sun set that evening. The event was ostensibly to talk with local artists about how best to network with the city to develop Detroit's arts industry. Kilpatrick also gave notice of the next day's groundbreaking for the Paradise Valley Cultural and Entertainment District at Harmonie Park, and announced the creation of the new Mayor's Office of Film, Art and Culture.

Kilpatrick joked with the crowd throughout the meeting and at one point quipped, "If I came around a lot of artists they'd swear I was smoking some weed." Then he said he would have to "step back" until he wasn't mayor anymore to do that. I'm not sure if he meant smoking weed or hanging out with artists. Either way he insinuated that artistic people smoke weed and he didn't seem to have a problem with that.

Isn't this guy the mayor? Isn't he supposed to have something to do with at least pretending to uphold the law? It's not like I think he should have Police Chief Ella Bully- Cummings — who was in attendance — rounding up weed smokers and tossing them in jail, but it seems like Kilpatrick was edging into Marion Barry territory. I saw a post-conviction Barry speak at an alternative press convention party in Washington, D.C. His message, as I remember it, was "Hey, I'm a partying guy. Let's party on."

That's the way Kilpatrick likes to play it. He's slick, erudite. During the course of the conversation he was as good as I've seen him: rolling out facts, stating stark realities, sometimes putting on his street persona to delight the gathering. The guy didn't get to be mayor by being a slacker. He's good; he's bad; he's the hip-hop mayor. There's no doubt that he's got charisma, and face-to-face he can charm the pants off anyone. He made humorous passing references to his legal problems and mocked our "great City Council." The mayor was on his game — confident and in control.

Then the next day he seemed to lose it. Apparently after the groundbreaking he went to his sister's house to chill. Then county officers say they by dropped by to serve a subpoena on contractor Bobby Ferguson, who happens to be Kilpatrick's sister's husband's cousin (I know it's kind of weird). However Kilpatrick seems to have gone for the bait like a big fat catfish and allegedly pushed Wayne County Sheriff's detective Brian White from the porch. He also allegedly dropped several f-bombs and, taking the opportunity to inject race into the situation, chastised Officer JoAnn Kinney, who is black, for being with a white officer named White.

Kilpatrick can sometimes be so good at what he does and still be bad enough to get into plenty of trouble. Most of us know better than to physically confront cops while they are performing official duties. Had it been me, they would probably have facilitated my imitation of Rodney King getting his head tenderized.

Are there two Kwame Kilpatricks operating inside the same body? There must be a psychological term to describe that. One moment he's the good visionary leader talking about creating the next Detroit despite all the challenges to the city. The next moment his inner bad boy is joking about smoking weed with artists.

It's funny that just two days after Kilpatrick joked about smoking weed, Wayne County Judge Ronald Giles ordered him to subject to random drug testing. (He passed the first one.) Maybe Giles heard he'd been hanging out with artists. Although I'm not sure many artists want to hang out with him.

The Iraqis are coming: During the talk, Kilpatrick dropped an interesting piece of information that's not getting a lot of press. He said that the city Planning Department was addressing issues related to the 18,000 Iraqis "coming to America" soon, presumably a significant number of them headed to the Detroit area.

All city department heads were supposedly at tables set up in the Manoogian yard to answer our questions, so when the program concluded I trotted over to the Planning Department to enquire about the Iraqis.

Marja M. Winters, director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization Planning and Development Department, said I was at the right place but she didn't know much because she hadn't been at an earlier meeting. She thought it had something to do with the neighborhood around Seven Mile Road and John R, and gave me her card so I could call her to get more information.

The next day I called and was told she was at lunch. A little later I was told she was taking a call but would call back if I left my number. About an hour later I called again and was told she was on the phone with someone else.

Undaunted, I headed to Seven Mile and John R where there are lots of empty storefronts with Arabic writing on the front. It looked like the kind of place people who had been living in a war zone would be familiar with. This used to be a thriving Chaldean neighborhood and business district. I went into a bakery, one of few places still open. People there. said that Iraqi refugees have been filtering in over the past year but they weren't settling in Detroit, mostly favoring Warren, Sterling Heights, Shelby Township and Southfield.

I called the Arab-American and Chaldean Council in Southfield and spoke to vice president for community relations Nabby Yono. He said that about 30,000 Iraqis will enter the United States by the end of the year with as many as 60,000 over the next few years. Based on past immigration patterns he expected 25 to 30 percent of them to settle in the Detroit area. According to migrationinformation.org, there are already roughly 32,000 foreign-born Iraqis in Michigan.

At the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Dearborn, director of communications Hannan Deep hadn't heard about such a large number of refugees coming here so quickly. But she said ACCESS facilitates required health assessments for about 125 Iraqis a month.

"A lot of these refugees are dispersed throughout the United States," says Deep. "Eventually they hear that we have this community in the metro Detroit area and they end up coming because they feel more comfortable here."

Nobody I talked to was real clear on what's up. Some didn't want to talk. But with Michigan leading the nation in unemployment, it's hard to see how our economy is going to easily absorb a large number of newcomers. Deep and Yono say they haven't heard about any anti-Iraqi problems.

"Most of them are coming under the family reunification program," Yono says. "Some of them maybe get assistance from family and friends. We are a country of immigrants, your father, mother, grandfather, whoever, came from somewhere. American people are good people."

With the number of Michiganders fleeing the state, an Iraqi surge might prove a counterweight to population loss. And with one of the largest Arab populations in North America, maybe we could market ourselves as a little bit of the Mideast in the Midwest. Let's hope the good people of Michigan and our new neighbors — to quote Rodney King — get along.

Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]