02 March 2008

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's Kryptonite

You have to admire Superman. The guy is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Most impressive of all, he's not self-conscious in tights. But for me the truly interesting element of the Superman saga is kryptonite. Here we have a guy who can fly and catch bullets with his teeth, but is rendered powerless as a puppy by a little green rock. Kryptonite. When Lex Luthor found it he delivered an ink-framed message for the ages: even those bound for greatness can be destroyed by their weakness.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick entered the office carrying hope on his broad shoulders. At 31, he was the youngest Mayor in the history of the city and displayed all of the strength and vigor promised by his campaign. He showed the tenacity required for accomplishment and the intelligence to defend his political decisions. Even his harshest critics must admit that he has done some amazing things for the city. During his tenure he has effectively cut property taxes, overseen the addition of 3,000+ new jobs, renovated forgotten city parks, produced the lowest crime rate in the city since the 60s, and helped attract the Super Bowl and MLB All Star game to the area. While he doesn't wear tights, this mayor should be flying high.

Enter kryptonite

. . . oops, sorry, had to take a moment to shake the image of Kwame Kilpatrick in tights . . .

And like many in positions of power, the mayor's Kryptonite is hubris.

It didn't take long for the mayor's accomplishments to be overshadowed by scandals, each connected by a string of hubris sewn by the mayor's internalized belief that he can do as he pleases with the power he holds. Among the headline scandals:

  • Spending city funds to lease a luxury family vehicle
  • Excessive cronyism
  • Using a city credit card for vacations and costly spa visits
  • Alleged parties at the Manoogian mansion followed by murder
  • Firing city employees as a cover up
  • Having an affair with his chief of staff
  • Perjury
  • Causing the financially strapped city to settle a $8.4 million whistle-blower lawsuit

The young mayor who soared with the hope of a city and the ability to fulfill his promise is now grounded by the weight of his indiscretions. Detroit is at a crossroads. Many are asking for the mayor to step down with dignity. Others are calling for the city to remove Kilpatrick and wipe away the scandel-plagued administration. And everyone must face the reality of failing to reach what might have been.

Such intelligence. Such Promise. Such hubris.
Such is the way with kryptonite.