The tragedy of Kwame

Why we all lost: Even more galling than Kilpatrick's corruption are the missed opportunities

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For those of us who have long pegged Kwame Kilpatrick as a crook as well as a liar, the indictments handed down last week by a federal grand jury inspired an almost visceral sense of satisfaction.�

Despite the attention paid to his sexual escapades, the real story has always been the way he and his cronies financially raped a poor and struggling city. With the detailed allegations in these indictments, the extent of the criminal enterprise run out of the mayor's office is finally becoming clear.

If Kilpatrick really did love the city of Detroit as much as he professes, then he would set an example for his co-defendants, spare us all the distraction and embarrassing spectacle of drawn-out legal proceedings and cut a quick deal with prosecutors. But that is unlikely, because if we've learned nothing else over the years, in Kwame's world, Kwame's self-interest always comes first.

As our colleague Jack Lessenberry points out this week, more scrutiny should have been paid to Kilpatrick's dealings dating back to the state Legislature. His affinity for corruption seems to have been there from the outset.

The tragedy is that so many other qualities were also evident: charisma, intelligence, an ability to inspire others. Instead of making Detroit the punch line for countless jokes, instead of smearing further a tarnished image, instead of inflaming racial conflicts, instead of broadening the divide between city and suburbs, Kwame Kilpatrick could have had the opposite effect.

We have no doubt that if Kwame Kilpatrick had stepped up to the bully pulpit that is the mayor's office and declared that he wanted to, for instance, make Detroit the greenest city in America, residents would have rallied around him. Had he gone to schools and told students that recycling was vital to Detroit's rebirth, most of the city would be filling bins with bottles and paper. Instead, we have a struggling pilot program.

If he had helped build on the goodwill created during the administration of his predecessor, Dennis Archer, and dedicated himself to creating a city that wanted to work openly and honestly with the suburbs, people — especially young people — would have responded. Instead, we have new accusations against a Department of Water & Sewerage that struggles to convince the suburbs that rate increases are really needed and not some attempt to further line the pockets of kickback-paying contractors.

A former teacher, Kilpatrick might have eventually obtained control of Detroit's failing school system and set about gaining the support of administrators, teachers unions, parents and students, and worked to gain the cooperation needed to turn things around.

He had the potential to become a senator, or governor, or a member of some president's cabinet. And, as he moved up the political ladder, the influence gained could have helped this city, the metro region and the entire state.

Instead, he threw it all away. And for what? The accoutrements of wealth can hardly seem worth it now that his future as a politician and leader has been destroyed, his family embarrassed and uprooted, his reputation trashed.

Kwame Kilpatrick may well be going away to federal prison for a long time when this has all played out. But he's not the only loser in this. He took from all of us what might have been.

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