January 29, 2008

Kwame Kilpatrick: Poster Child for the Failure of Black Accountability

I lived in Metro Detroit for eight years, a time span that included Mayor Archer's second term and Kwame Kilpatrick's first. Detroit has been the nightmare scenario of white flight, ineffective black political rule, racial polarization and urban decay for better than 20 years. The city has a history and well known status as the most segregated city in America. Sadly, that racial legacy and present day context has been the excuse for a low standard of accountability when it comes to Detroit's black political leadership. The latest embarrassment is the now publicly outed sordid extramarital affair between Mayor Kilpatrick and Chief of Staff Christine Beatty.

It was an affair those in the know and among Kwame's security detail knew about and one of those open secrets the rest of the city suspected. It became public knowledge for sure when text messages were revealed which confirmed the affair. The seeds of Kwame's undoing began with a pair of police officers that sued him and the city for alleged violations of the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act. The suits were brought by Officer Harold Nelthrope, a former mayoral bodyguard, and Gary Brown, a former deputy chief who previously headed the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit. Brown says he was fired for letting members of his unit investigate Nelthrope’s allegations and Nelthrope said that Kwame violated whistle blower laws by outing him and slandering him in retaliation.

Nelthrope approached Internal Affairs, known as the Professional Accountability Bureau, with allegations that some members of the mayor’s security team were getting paid for overtime hours they didn’t work, as well as other alleged transgressions. He also reported rumors of a wild party at the mayoral mansion involving strippers, one of whom was allegedly assaulted by the mayor’s wife, Carlita Kilpatrick who supposedly walked in on a lap dance Kwame was enjoying. Deputy Chief Gary Brown pursued an investigation into Nelthrope's claims about the overtime as well as the party rumors, a path certain to bring him into direct conflict with the Mayor. In responding to the allegations, Kwame identified Nelthrope publicly, even though his identity by law should have been confidential. The mayor called his allegations false and publicly said he was a liar and that he hoped Nelthrope's family was listening.

Kwame's counterattack was hard core and revealing of his character. He told the then Police Chief, Jerry Oliver, ( a man universally hated by rank and file DPD) to fire Deputy Chief Brown and to say publicly that it was his decision and not the Mayor's. The hilarity of that lie was brought home to me one morning during my morning commute listening to AM760 as the scandal unfolded. On a morning show, the Mayor was interviewed and when asked who's decision was it to fire Deputy Chief Brown, he confidently stated it was Chief Oliver's call. Not more than an hour or so later, Chief Oliver, interviewed on a different show, same station, said the opposite, that the Mayor instructed him to fire Deputy Chief Brown. They clearly had not gotten their stories straight. Later that same day, Chief Oliver was interviewed again and it was clear that the Chief had been given a thorough review of the talking points memo by Kwame and now he was taking the hit and stating that it was his call to fire the Deputy Chief.

In the course of giving testimony in the case, the plaintiffs lawyers asked Kwame and Beatty both if they were romantically involved, clearly prompted by the plaintiffs inside knowledge of what was going on. Christine simply responded no. Kwame gave an indignant speech in his answer, saying angrily that it was wrong to brand Beatty as a whore. All the time, the both of them flagrantly involved in a torrid liaison that was carried on in the presence of administration insiders and was certainly known to their police detail. The case was eventually settled for about $6 million with another $3 million paid in legal fees, and the plaintiffs committed to a secrecy agreement about the deal.

Political Season's take on this sordid mess? Kwame should lose his job for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, he's a married man doing his at the time also married chief of staff employee, opening the city to potential sexual harassment liabilities from her or other men and women in the administration. That is stupendous bad judgment. Everybody in town in the know knew it was going on, and the rest of the city pretty much assumed it.

Secondly, they fired people to cover the affair up and other foolishness he was doing. They made the police chief fire the deputy police chief that initiated an investigation into goings on with Kwame's security detail and those people sued. So they axed people to cover up their mess.

Lastly, the jacked up, stone broke City of Detroit forked over $9.4 million in a settlement plus legal fees to settle the case and keep the plaintiffs quiet about what they knew, mainly his affair with Beatty, perhaps others and likely the real story about the big stripper party that supposedly never happened.

Detroit is the poster child for urban decay. Michigan's economy has been in the toilet for several years now which is why I live in Indy and not Detroit. Here in Indy, they talk about not becoming "Detroit". Detroit, a city with so many things wrong that is so badly in need of leadership and good stewardship, and they pay out $9.4 million plus legal fees to hush the Mayor's sordid affair with his chief of staff, who was also married and was cool with his wife? The man should resign. If this brother worked for you or if you or I cost our company $9.4 million because of an affair with a subordinate, would we have a job? Hell no.

Don't feel sorry for him and don't cut him an inch of slack. Black people in Detroit and in general are too often all too willing to tolerate any mess to keep "black" leadership, even if that means no accountability. And with no accountability, the city will continue to be a dump because black people are not taking responsibility for ourselves. Already the hit parade of excuses is beginning. According to the Detroit Free Press, Sharon McPhail, one of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s top aides, said today that she believes Kilpatrick will not be charged with perjury despite contradictions between his testimony in court in a whistleblower case and text messages sent between him and his chief of staff.

McPhail, speaking with reporters as she entered the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, said she doesn’t believe enough evidence exists to charge Kilpatrick, although she also said she had not read the text messages.

“When the facts are known this is just going to be a blip on the screen of all the wonderful things he’s done for the city,” she said.

McPhail said calls for the mayor to repay the city for paying his legal bills in the whistleblower suit and the $9 million judgment in that case are misplaced. The case resulted because of Kilpatrick’s official decision, justifying a taxpayer-funded legal defense, she said.

The text messages exposure of his affair with chief of staff Christine Beatty was not why three former police officers sued the city, she said. The case originated because former Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown continued to investigate a never-proven wild party at the Manoogian Mansion.

And lets not forget about the rather sexist nature of our substandard community accountability on display here with the resignation of Christine Beatty. As my wife pointed out, her career is effectively destroyed. She is now out of a job, divorced, and branded as a whore and certified home wrecker. Who is going to be willing to employ her in any position of public trust or responsibility again? What will be the quality of her professional relationships with other women and men in the future? She is out of her job right now, but Kwame's staff is going on the defense of him and I'm sure the drumbeat from the community may already have begun that he should not have to resign, that if he is, he's being held to a different standard than white politicians. I don't see anyone coming to Beatty's defense. Why shouldn't the excuses being advanced on Kwame's behalf apply to her as well? How that plays is even more interesting considering the number of other high profile black women in the orbit of this mess. The prosecutor is a Black woman. Christine Beatty is a Black woman. Carlita Kilpatrick is a Black woman, as is Kwame's mother, Carolyn Kilpatricke head of the Congressional Black Caucus. Don't be surprised if Beatty is vilified by the same black community that wants to excuse Kwame.

This is the accountability issue front and center for black people and the kind of stuff that makes us look like total jackasses. We are on a hair trigger when a white person makes a comment rightly or wrongly and will DEMAND folk be fired and punished, but we will make every excuse for black people in positions of responsibility who are guilty of egregious behavior, from taking a crack hit on camera to banking $90,000 in bribe money in the freezer. The result: underperformance in nearly every aspect of the community when it comes to implementation of effective strategies that address the interests of black people. Black Americans must call check on the poor performance of black leadership and demonstrate more maturity as a community by refusing to any longer tolerate the exercise of extremely poor judgment in positions of responsibility in order to have "black" leadership. If we effectively demand accountability and responsible leadership irrespective of the race of the person in a leadership position, we would be far better off.