Add Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to the recently growing list of public officials brought low by extramarital behavior.
Mayor Kilpatrick, who was formally charged Monday with eight felony charges including perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, and misconduct in office, has been embroiled in scandal since the Detroit Free Press broke news of romantic text messages between him and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, two months ago.
The issue isn't the affair the two were apparently having five years ago, but the fact that Kilpatrick allegedly had three police officers fired for an investigation that might have uncovered the affair, and then lied under oath when questioned in a lawsuit brought by the officers last summer. He later convinced the City Council to approve an $8.4 million settlement with the officers, apparently to prevent the text messages from being released.
"Let me be very clear," said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy in announcing the charges. "This was not an investigation focused on lying about sex.... Our investigation has clearly shown that public dollars were used, people's lives were ruined, the justice system was severely mocked, and the public trust trampled on. This case is about as far from being a private matter as one can get."
Despite the formal indictment, and a nonbinding resolution that the Detroit City Council passed last week calling on him to resign, Kilpatrick seems determined to stay in office.
"This has been a very flawed process from the beginning," he said at a press conference Monday after the charges were announced. "I look forward to complete exoneration once all the facts in this matter have been brought forth."
For beleaguered Detroit, the scandal has been another blow, and many are questioning Kilpatrick's ability to effectively govern or deliver on his many promises to help the city get back on its feet.
"Detroit has its image problems to begin with, and this certainly doesn't do them any good," says Earl Ryan, director of the Citizens Research Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization in the city. Still, Mr. Ryan notes that there have been some positive developments for Detroit in recent years, particularly when it comes to downtown development.
"Over the short run, the impact is probably not going to be good," Ryan says. "Over the long term, I think some of the more positive things happening will [push] the negative part aside."
Kilpatrick, dubbed America's "Hip-Hop Mayor," is Detroit's youngest mayor. He was elected in 2001 at age 31. While some have credited him with improving downtown and bringing new business and development to the city, controversy has swirled around him for years, including revelations that he used taxpayer money to pay for personal vacations and other private expenses and reports of having the city lease a luxury SUV for his wife's personal use.
The current charges stem from revelations of more than 14,000 text messages between Kilpatrick and Ms. Beatty, who resigned after the news broke, which made clear that the two were carrying on an affair at the beginning of his first term. Both had testified in the lawsuit against Kilpatrick last year that no such affair had taken place. Beatty faces seven felony charges.
Despite reports of misconduct, Kilpatrick was able to win reelection in 2005 and has repeatedly suggested that the negative media reports and the current investigation stem from a "lynch mob mentality." Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and others criticized him earlier this month when he used a racial epithet during his State of the City address, describing the names he's been called and the threats he's endured since this scandal broke.
Kilpatrick's determination to stay on as mayor stands in sharp contrast to Eliot Spitzer's quick resignation as New York mayor after his own sex scandal earlier this month – a fact that has sparked a fair amount of discussion in the Michigan press. But his tenacity hasn't surprised some observers, who say his entire identity is wrapped up in the office.
"This guy will never quit," says Bill Ballenger, editor of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics. A conviction would force him out of office, but Mr. Ballenger notes that one is unlikely before his term ends at the end of next year. He says he believes Kilpatrick may still try to run for reelection.