In dispirited Detroit, mayor pleads guilty
Plea deal ousts Kilpatrick after an eight-month scandal. Interim mayor inherits a city in a slump.
A protracted scandal that has paralyzed Detroit and made its city government a spectacle for much of the US ended Thursday when Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to two felony counts, abruptly ending his tenure as mayor and giving the city a new and uncertain future.Skip to next paragraph
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The plea agreement calls for Mr. Kilpatrick to serve four months in jail and five years' probation, leave office within two weeks, pay $1 million in restitution to the city, and surrender his law license. It came even as Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) was conducting a hearing, at the request of the Detroit City Council, into whether she should take the unusual step of removing Kilpatrick from office.
For a troubled Detroit, the deal concludes eight months of limbo that began after steamy text messages between Kilpatrick and a political aide became public. It also ends a mayoral tenure that has included both striking accomplishments and titillating scandal. City Council President Ken Cockrel is set to become interim mayor, and a special election is likely to be held in several months to elect a permanent mayor.
But beyond that, Detroit's future is murky.
"The idea that somehow all Detroit's problems are going to be cured with the departure of Kwame Kilpatrick is laughable.... The same problems are going to persist, and it's totally unclear as to who the successor on a long-term basis ... will be and how well that person might work with the City Council," says Bill Ballenger, editor of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.
Kilpatrick's legacy, he adds, "is going to be [that of] a bright, charismatic, energetic young mayor who in fact was doing a lot of things well but had personal flaws that brought him down."
Kilpatrick was charged in March with eight felony counts, including perjury, obstruction of justice, and misconduct in office. Two more counts were added in August. He pleaded guilty Thursday to obstruction of justice through committing perjury.
The charges stemmed from an extramarital affair between Kilpatrick and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty, who later resigned. After text messages between the two surfaced in January, questions arose about Kilpatrick's testimony denying the affair, which came during a lawsuit last summer looking into whether he had three police officers fired for pursuing an investigation that could have uncovered the affair. Kilpatrick later persuaded the city council to approve an $8.4 million settlement with the officers, allegedly in an effort to keep the text messages from becoming public.
Kilpatrick had resisted the multiplying calls for his resignation, including a statement from the Obama campaign Wednesday night that his legal troubles "have been a distraction the city cannot afford." But as Governor Granholm's hearing progressed, he decided to enter the plea agreement.