13 March 2008

Division By Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick

I'm not sure why I was surprised at the closing words of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's 2008 State of the City Address. After all, this is not the first time when faced with political danger that he played the I-am-a-victim defense. When his re-election bid seemed over in 2005 he rallied Detroit voters with baseless claims that the suburbs were out to get him (complete with all of the implied racism he could muster). He even successfully painted his opponent Freman Hendrix, a fellow African American Democrat, as . . . well, white. But I thought things would be different this time.

Perhaps my thinking was influenced by what's been happening on the national scene. America's future seems headed toward an ideology of racial unity as we've seen with Barack Obama's struggle to distance himself from the separatist rhetoric of his church and any connection to racist supporters like Louis Farrakhan. Or perhaps I just thought the mayor would step up and admit his failings, trying to move forward for the sake of the people and city he so vehemently claims to love. I was wrong.

But I still find myself believing that the mayor took the wrong tact. Does he really believe that Detroiters are as gullible as his speech implies? Does he think playing "us against them" will wipe away the stains from his scandal-plagued administration? I know that he understands Detroit politics better than a suburbanite like me, but is it possible that his supporters don't ask the same questions about this man that the rest of the country is asking?

The mayor began his speech noting that for "more than 300 years . . . Detroiters [have] answered the call to greatness." There is no doubt about that. But shouldn't his constituents ask why the mayor hasn't answered that call himself? Especially when he had so much promise as a leader. And when Kilpatrick went on to deliver a list of "people who fought on behalf of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised" didn't city residents wonder how that list rolled so easily from his lips after countless allegations that he has lined the pockets of family and friends with the money, hopes and dreams of those same dispossessed and disenfranchised?

"Sometimes," Kilpatrick continued, "Sometimes we may not see our own time for what it truly is . . . years from now another mayor will stand here . . . they will look back at this time as the time when our community decided to transform our city. They will remember this as a time we thought not only about us, but about the future." That future mayor will certainly look back and see that trait in most Detroiters who live and sacrifice to create a better place for all of us. But did anybody watching this speech really believe that Mayor Kilpatrick is thinking about the future rather than himself?

As I have previously written, I firmly believe that Kwame Kilpatrick has done some good for the city of Detroit. The bulk of his speech dealt with what his administration has accomplished and their plans for the future. But for every bit of good I sensed the failure of what could be. Here was a man that I believe could have been great for the city, the state, perhaps even the country. Yet he seems either unable or unconcerned with controlling his impulses, a fact that was again exposed in his closing words.

Of course, as the mayor predicted, it was those closing words that have sparked the most controversy. Rather than look for hope, he attacked his critics. Instead of seeking unity, the mayor decided to protect himself through division. Rather than helping the community reach toward the future, the mayor laced his finale with every code word he could deliver to inform his supporters that he is the victim. For those who did not hear his closing, read it and weep. Weep for those who are working to build a better Detroit. Weep for those who are fighting for racial harmony. Weep for the dispossessed and disenfranchised who have suddenly become pawns in the struggle for power.

The challenge for all of us in public office is to rise above our differences -- to rise above our human frailties – and maintain our focus on working together to move this city forward. Ralph Waldo Emerson said big jobs usually go to the people who prove their ability to outgrow small ones.

President Cockrel [Detroit City Council President, Kenneth Cockrel], we have much more serious issues affecting the future of this city than whether we’re going to attend a speech.

I love you and I love what you've done for our city.

At this moment in our history, we must turn to each other, and not on each other.

And finally tonight, and this may be the most talked about part of the speech after laying out all of that. But I feel that I cannot leave this auditorium with my wife and my sons sitting there without addressing this issue.

In the past 30 days, I've been called a n----- more than any time in my entire life. In the past three days I have received more death threats than I have in my entire administration. I've heard these words before, but I've never heard people say them about my wife and children.

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.

And it's seriously time. We've never been here before. And I don't care if they cut the TV off. We've never been in a situation like this before where you can say anything, do anything, have no facts, no research, no nothin and you can launch a hate-driven, bigoted assault on a family.

I humbly ask members of council. I humbly ask the business community. I humbly ask the religious community. I humbly ask the brothers and sisters of the city of Detroit. I humbly ask that we say no more together. I humbly ask that we say no more together.

I love this city with every part of my being and I will continue to stay focused on building the next Detroit.

God bless you.

Detroit, I love you.
The Detroit Free Press and other news sources have reported that, despite the mayor's claims of threats against himself and his family, there is no evidence, nor has the mayor requested a police investigation into any threats. If those threats are true it should lead to arrests. If they are not true, then we bear witness to a man who would destroy a city for the lust of power. Either way, I believe the future mayor that Kilpatrick mentioned in his speech will have a lot to say about this time and this mayor.

View Mayor Kilpatrick's entire State of the City Address here.


  1. Khaki Elephant (Paul) said...


    Michigan attorney general, Mike Cox, is calling for Mayor Kilpatrick’s resignation following the State of the City Address.

    "I thought his statements were reprehensible," said Cox during an interview on local radio station, WJR. "It was race-baiting on par with David Duke and George Wallace -- all to save his political career."