What the mayor did

May 21, 2003 at 12:00 am

They don’t never learn nothin’.

That is what gives ink-stained wretches like me new scandals to write about and keeps a thousand crisis-management firms in business.

Even the dimmest-witted public relations students grasp the drill. When you screw up, or have a potential huge problem, don’t try to sweep it under the rug. What always does you in is the cover-up (ask Richard Nixon) and the most boneheaded possible thing is to try to fire the guys investigating the affair (ask Richard Nixon).

Everybody knows that — until it happens to them. Then they stammer, “I did not have sex with that woman,” or whatever, and seal the deal for their own humiliation.

Which brings us to Kwame Kilpatrick, the latest mayor of Detroit, who firmly denies having what the street calls “the ho party” at the Manoogian Mansion last year.

Frankly, I would like to see the media agree to a voluntary ban on reporting on any politician’s private life, unless they are consorting with minors or Ba’ath Party spies. There are always rumors. Dennis Archer was said to have one or two or a hundred illegitimate children. Jerry Cavanagh was said to have boatloads of mistresses.

None of these allegations ever made it into print, which is a good thing; once you start talking about that stuff, everybody then ignores smaller issues, like the fact that the city is falling apart, the national economy is a mess and we’re at war.

But the alleged Manoogian bash has been the talk of in-the-know Detroit for months, though the white media, while they gossiped about it endlessly, primly declined to report on it — or, as far as I can tell, to even ask the mayor what was up.

Naturally, it got better every time I heard it: Some versions had his wife beating up a stripper on the lawn of the Manoog, Kwame ordering her police escort demoted because they let Mrs. K. give them the slip, Barbara Bush in a hot tub, etc., etc., etc.

OK, I made that last one up. But finally, I asked the mayor in December whether there was any truth to the rumors of “wild orgies” at the Manoogian. He told me no, and in a comment that has become famous, said he thought such rumors got started because “we are sexy. I think this is a sexy administration, because of the youth.”

That was cute, I thought. His press secretary was dismayed I had asked, but I thought Kilpatrick deserved a chance to address something he knew people were whispering about all over town. Frankly, I couldn’t care less about the mayor’s private life. If I thought it would somehow help fix the city and the schools, I would be willing to take up a collection to send him across the border to Windsor from time to time.

And it is important to note that there is not, to my knowledge, one person who has come forward to say that he or she witnessed any of the alleged Manoogian follies firsthand.

However, on May 9, the mayor, who supposedly has a law degree, then pulled a move that made me think he must have played his entire college football career without a helmet. He abruptly fired Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown, whose job was to look into internal corruption involving the police, and who mainly had been investigating other alleged shenanigans involving the mayor’s security team, who it is said are known for running into other vehicles and accumulating vast amounts of overtime.

Whatever the mayor did or didn’t do, firing Brown was beyond stupid. The last time I can remember a politician doing something like this was in October 1973. In those days, when 3-year-old Kwame was presumably learning not to poop in his pants, Dick Nixon soiled his big-time, by firing the special prosecutor investigating him and causing the attorney general to resign in what was called the Saturday Night Massacre.

That sealed Nixon’s doom. Which isn’t to say that Kwame Kilpatrick’s career is finished. He has yet to give a sensible explanation for why he fired the deputy chief. He needs to do so — or apologize and reinstate him, pronto. He also should purge any cronies and pals from his “security team” and think hard about reducing the entourage; he doesn’t need to travel around town looking like a South American dictator.

And if he does what he needs to do, he is apt to find, as have many politicians (Teddy Kennedy), that voters will forgive mistakes and personal failings, especially if otherwise talented people say they are sorry. What they won’t forgive is being systematically lied to. Since he didn’t ask me for advice, I’ll offer a little more.

If being the first “hip-hop mayor” works for this city, that’s just fine. I have appalling old-guy tastes in everything, and happily admit I have no idea what sort of fashion-setting image he should create. But what I do know is that the mayor should not let the trimmings get in the way of the mission, which is to fix this city.

Last summer, before the alleged ho party, two young black women who are students of mine came up to me after I’d written something they saw as favorable about the mayor.

“You know, we used to like him but we don’t respect him now,” one said.

Why? Well, they and their friends go “clubbing” till all hours, and they said they’d bumped into the mayor — more than once — out bumping and grinding at 2 a.m.

They didn’t think that was right.

“The mayor shouldn’t be there. He should be home with his wife and babies,” one said, and the other agreed.

These were women in their 20s who had no political connections whatsoever.

If they were typical, I’d say he’s got a problem.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]