Unfit to hold any office

Sep 21, 2005 at 12:00 am

Want to help the white racists in Lansing to take control of the city of Detroit, take the power to run the city away from its citizens and send in an out-of-town “economic manager” to run things?

Then do everything you can to see that Kwame Kilpatrick is re-elected.

I’ll bet you even money that if the voters are so blind as to re-elect this incompetent, self-indulgent, race-baiting clown, that is precisely what will happen.

The Legislature will take control, and do it with barely disguised glee. And Detroiters will have brought it on themselves.

Strong words, yes. But true. Kwame Kilpatrick long ago proved that he can’t manage himself and his appetites, let alone a devastated city. The city’s auditor general thinks the mayor doesn’t even understand the budgeting process.

All signs are that with this leadership, Detroit will find itself in the situation Hamtramck was and Highland Park is — taken over and run by the state.

But even if that weren’t so, KK has now proven that he’s unfit to hold any office. Last week, the two mayoral finalists, Kilpatrick and Freman Hendrix, former deputy mayor and chief operating officer under Dennis Archer, squared off in a mayoral debate before the Detroit Economic Club.

Both sides made some legitimate points. Whether true or not, it was absolutely fair game for the mayor to charge, as he did, that “Mr. Hendrix looks good, but he could not move a project. He could not shovel snow. He could not keep us safe. He could not fix the Fire Department.”

Frankly, Hendrix needs to do a better job at being quick on his feet and answering such criticism. The consensus among those who were there was that he rambled. He isn’t nearly as good a speaker as Kilpatrick, and may never be — though he did at one point cleverly sum up the mayor by saying we shouldn’t blame him too much for failing at nearly everything he tried.

“There is nothing in his background that prepared him for the major challenges,” Hendrix, two decades older, said of the man who increasingly seems to merit the nickname, “Baby Huey.”

“This is not his fault. He is not ready,” Hendrix added. So far, everything on both sides was standard political fare, and fair game. But then Kwame Kilpatrick took two flying leaps — first into garbage, then into raw sewage.

First he lashed out at the suburbs, saying, “In Birmingham, in Bloomfield Hills and all these places, they do more meth, they do more ecstasy and they do more acid than all the schools in the city of Detroit put together.”

Earnestly, the people who run the big newspapers and the other mainstream media scrambled to get the school districts that serve their major customers, the suburbanites, to bleat that this wasn’t true. Indeed, KK’s bit of suburb-bashing was likely false ... yet who really knows?

To some extent, that probably depends on what he meant by “all these places,” and whether he was talking about total quantity of drugs done, or average use per student. There are far more students in the suburbs these days, and many of them have more disposable income.

What the media really needed to ask was, what was the point? Whether kids take more drugs in Southfield or Paraguay has nothing to do with doing a competent job as mayor of Detroit. Naturally, the mayor knows that.

What this suburb-bashing really was about was a pathetic attempt to get black Detroiters to circle the wagons around him. That worked, a long time ago, for Coleman Young. But now there are something like 150,000 African-Americans in Oakland County alone. People are fleeing Detroit, at a rate of something like a thousand a month, and most of them are black.

Was Kwame’s drug charge below the belt? Sure. But nothing compared to Our Mayor’s swan dive into the cesspool, when he ended his remarks by saying that no one in his family has ever been arrested, and then added, “I just wonder if Mr. Hendrix can say the same thing.”

Freman Hendrix looked stunned, sort of the way he might have if the mayor had squatted down and relieved himself on the floor.

Some wondered why he didn’t immediately deny that any of his family ever had been in trouble with the law. Actually, the fact that Hendrix didn’t shoot from the hip helped reassure me that he is indeed a man of honesty and integrity.

Why? Consider this: Do you really know that everyone in your family has no criminal record? I have two brothers. I don’t have any reason to think either has been in trouble with the law, but then, if either had been arrested for reckless driving or jaywalking in Sacramento, I might very well never have heard about it.

Additionally, how do we define family? What about uncles, second cousins, third cousins once removed, etc.? What was really going on here, of course, was a cheap attempt to revive an old, nasty rumor about the candidate’s wife, which Sharon McPhail first tried to peddle to me some years ago.

According to various incarnations of the rumor, the lady (Elaine Lewis) embezzled vast pots of money from Blue Cross/Blue Shield while she worked there. In one version, she even murdered someone.

Interestingly, few people have ever stopped to ask why — if any of this is the least bit true — Mike Ilitch would hire an embezzler to be controller, the person in charge of keeping the books, for his Detroit Tigers.

Not only did he keep her on after Freman Hendrix left government service, she was promoted. Does that make any sense to you?

In a way, I feel slimy even discussing this. Elaine Lewis is not running for anything. Nevertheless, I felt I had to ask Hendrix what the truth of all that is. “There isn’t any,” he told me.

The rumor stems from this, he said: Years ago, she was part of an entire division at Blue Cross that was eliminated following a whistleblower-motivated lawsuit. Somebody screwed up, and the health care provider reacted. Officially, her departure was listed as a mutual agreement to part company. No charges were ever filed, and she got a severance package.

Apparently, there also was some other woman named Elaine Lewis who did have a felony record, did hard time and was later released from jail.

What bothers the candidate most is not the rumor, but that his wife worries this is hurting him in some way. I’ve met Hendrix’s wife on a number of occasions. I found her warm, intelligent, immensely classy and rather shy.

“Look, this isn’t going to hurt us,” Hendrix told me. “You know the media would love to see us getting into a mud-wrestling match. Well, I’m not going to get into that. Plus, I don’t need to. Detroiters are more mature than that. This isn’t the 1980s. Do you know who those suburbanites are? Former Detroiters, many of them African-American.

“This is a desperate man. His volunteers aren‘t showing up. He can’t get the kind of [campaign money] he wanted. There will be more of this.”

Then I could fairly hear Freman smile on his end of the phone call. “You know, I am looking forward to kicking his ass.” We better hope he does, Detroit.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]