OK, we confess that we were starting to doze off toward the end of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's State of the City address Tuesday night. Much like he did when he came from the bunker to address City Council last month, the mayor seemed to be working from the basic political PR guidebook: Hit a single theme for the day and stick to it. The theme was Detroit will move forward with Kwame Kilpatrick. There were plans for new mobile police stations, more police officers, Fire Department modernization, expanded neighborhood initiatives and new push to upgrade infrastructure.
There were a couple references linking himself to past mayors, especially to Coleman Young's legacy. Notably absent was any mention of his immediate predecessor, Dennis Archer — the mayor most responsible for establishing the foundation for revitalization that Kilpatrick has been able to build upon. There were some subtle references to the cloud over him, his administration and the city in the constant calls to move forward. And then there was the bizarre verbal bitch-slap delivered to Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. with a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote. But mostly he stayed on point, even offering up a new city mantra: "Expect excellence."
Somewhere around the new "budget stabilization fund" and the 10-year plan to end homelessness, we began nodding off with the city in good hands, only to awaken startled when KK, in a perhaps unscripted coda, knocked down the facade he'd spent most of an hour constructing. Now he was Kilpatrick the embattled.
In the past he'd let surrogates paint his detractors as a lynch mob. Now he sank to a new low in playing the race card to make the charge himself.
How a man who exists in the cocoon of cronies gets within range of an epithet is a bit of a mystery to us, but nonetheless, the media criticism was not too subtly linked with the leader of Detroit and his family being pelted with the slur "nigger" — and with the mayor and his family facing death threats like never before.
"I don't believe that a Nielsen rating is worth the life of my children or your children. This unethical, illegal lynch mob mentality has to stop," said the mayor.
It all seemed to throw the one-message-a-day rule by the wayside. On the other hand, with the drumbeat of almost daily revelations in the news and a decision on criminal charges hovering — including perjury — the mayor may not have many days to deliver his message in the immediate future.
What we witnessed at the end of Tuesday's speech were the actions of a desperate politician willing to do anything in his attempt to cling to office.
His claim that the media has launched a "hate-driven, bigoted assault on a family" and that the assault has been backed by "no research, no fact, no nothing" is a two-fold lie. The assault, if you want to call it that, has not been against the mayor's family, but has been focused on Kilpatrick and his cronies. It is an "assault" that has been thoroughly documented and well-reported. What's been completely absent is any denial on the part of the mayor.
Beyond that, it wasn't the media that found Kilpatrick's claims to lack credibility when he took the witness stand in the whistle-blower lawsuit brought by two former police officers. It wasn't the media that caused the Kilpatrick administration to shut down investigations that might have led to the uncovering of criminal behavior as well as an embarrassing and politically destructive personal lifestyle.
The media didn't order Detroit City Council members — all but one of whom are African-American — not to take their traditional seats on stage behind him as he delivered this speech.
But battling the media is part of Kilpatrick's strategy now — he's standing up to the man. "I don't care if they cut the TV off," he declared in the midst of the speech-topping rant — as if what he had to say was so revolutionary that the ratings-driven white media would pass on dramatic TV to censor him.
Early in his speech, Kilpatrick referenced past Detroit heroes, including, Ossian Sweet, the African-American doctor who, along with his family, was threatened by a white mob when they integrated a Detroit neighborhood in 1925. It was a move that required Sweet, along with friends and relatives, to literally take up arms to defend themselves — and face murder charges when they fired at the mob, killing a white man.
For Kilpatrick to claim he's the victim of any kind of lynch mob is a sort of sacrilege to the sacrifice of true victims — and true heroes.
Kilpatrick's decision to keep Detroit on what he called the "Kwame Kilpatrick roller coaster" is in stark contrast to the short ride of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's scandal.
Less than 24 hours after being identified as Client 9 of a high-priced call girl, Spitzer was behind a podium (and, unlike Kilpatrick, not in a church) offering a short, straightforward apology. By Wednesday, Spitzer — a former state attorney general who had built his career as a squeaky-clean crusader — did what was best for the people of his state, and probably what was best for his family as well. He resigned.
No long, drawn-out drama. No ongoing distractions. No desperate attempts to hold onto power.
The "Kwame Kilpatrick roller coaster," with new and embarrassing revelations dropping almost daily, makes us sicker and sicker the longer it continues. But for all his lack of credibility these days, we're coming to believe the mayor when he says that he isn't quitting. There has been speculation that Kilpatrick is staying in office so as to have a bargaining chip should Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy decide to bring charges. Given Kilpatrick's ongoing display of absolute arrogance, it is not far-fetched to believe that he would risk jail by taking his case to court, believing to the end that he can still talk his way out of any jam.
Perhaps News Hits is peering too far down the road. Kilpatrick is expecting to be charged and tried, he may well figure today's audience contains tomorrow's jurors. An image of the media holding a hangman's noose can't hurt if he's looking for one juror to hang a verdict.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]