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In dispirited Detroit, mayor pleads guilty

Plea deal ousts Kilpatrick after an eight-month scandal. Interim mayor inherits a city in a slump.

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"I lied under oath in the case of Gary Brown and Harold Nelthrope versus the city of Detroit," Kilpatrick told the court Thursday. "I did so with the intent to mislead the court and jury, to impede and obstruct the disposition of justice."

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Ever since he took office in 2002 at age 31, Kilpatrick has grabbed media attention. Dubbed America's "Hip-Hop Mayor" and known for his flashy clothes and winsome charisma, he pledged to bring a renaissance to struggling Detroit. Many say he has helped the Rust Belt city, bringing in new development projects and promises of jobs, and recently announcing a deal with Quicken Loans that would move its headquarters and 4,000 employees from Livonia, Mich., to downtown Detroit.

"If you look at downtown Detroit now and compare it to what it looked like when he came into office, the turnaround is obvious," says Earl Ryan, director of the Citizens Research Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that doesn't take official positions on elected leaders. "He had good relations with the business community. I think it's fairly evident that good things were happening."

But scandal has swirled around the mayor almost from the day he took office. While these felony counts are the first criminal charges he's faced, Kilpatrick has struggled with other scandals, including reports of excessive partying, misuse of a city credit card for his own entertainment, and criticisms that he had the city lease a Lincoln Navigator for his wife's personal use.

With his latest problems, his efforts to help the city stalled.

"A lot of things went on hold largely because people were not confident of where leadership was going to come from in the future," says Mr. Ryan of Citizens Research Council.

For the time being, the city's myriad economic and social troubles, which have worsened as the auto industry has faltered during the credit crunch, fall into the lap of Mr. Cockrel, the interim mayor.

"One of the major issues that Detroit is going to have to confront … is Detroit's role in the region," says Ryan. "It has got to both cooperate and get strength from the surrounding suburbs."

Ryan is cautiously optimistic that the city can move forward, especially if the auto industry is able to mount a comeback. But others are less sanguine.

"Detroit is a calamity," says Mr. Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics. "The stereotypes are terrible and the defenders of Detroit keep saying Detroit is getting a bum rap … but in this case, more and more it appears that reality is fitting the stereotype all too neatly."