Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 13, 2013

George Weeks: Reflections on Kwame Kilpatrick

By George Weeks
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — As elsewhere, first impressions in politics can be deceptive. So it was a dozen or so years as I reported on Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit when he was the Democratic Floor Leader in the Michigan House.

Kilpatrick, who was 26 when elected to the House in 1996 and 31 when elected mayor of Detroit in 2001, gained national recognition as a rising star. He once addressed a Democratic National Convention and was honored by a centrist Democratic organization whose leaders included Bill Clinton and Jim Blanchard.

In Lansing at the Capitol, it was interesting to watch Kilpatrick, a hulking former All-American tackle at Florida A&M University, weave among the state House aisles cutting deals. One Republican he effectively worked well with was Rep. Rick Johnson of LeRoy, who became the 2001-04 House Speaker. They exchanged district visits.

The extent of the self-described “remorseful” Kilpatrick’s fall was underscored last week when he was sentenced to a whopping 28 years in prison for corruption involving racketeering, conspiracy, extortion and tax crimes. It was one of the longest-ever for a corrupt politician in any state.

Nolan Finley, editor of the editorial page of The Detroit News, wrote: “Kilpatrick told the court, ‘I’m ready to go to prison. ‘ Turns out he was born ready. His corruption trial left no question that every move Kilpatrick made throughout his career was calculated by how it would benefit him. He was never anything more than a crook.”

Of all of the politicians who weighed in on the sentence, I thought the ever-quotable Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who long has worked closely with Detroit mayors on Metro issues, nailed it best:

“This is the end of a long Greek tragedy. What bothers me most is the sacrifice of a potentially brilliant career. The guy was intelligent, charismatic, witty and greedy as hell.”

Schauer’s northern blitz

Democrat Mark Schauer of Battle Creek, the former state representative and state Senate Democratic Floor leader and congressman who is the almost-certain nominee oppose Gov. Rick Snyder in 2014, last week campaigned Up North for what he said as “at least the fifth time.”

Reached Saturday by phone as his white Saturn Outlook SUV headed for Frankfort for his eighth and final stop on a swing that ranged across the northern Lower Peninsula from well as Snyder’s policies.

Citing examples, he said that he encountered a retired postal worker and a retired auto worker who complained that because of Snyder’s policies on pensions they will be paying higher taxes.

It is among the many issues we will be hearing much more amount in the next year.

Basket Case/Show Case

Detroit’s bankruptcy is a continuing saga for Michigan’s biggest city and looms largest for any city in the country. Less noted are the many ongoing economic, social and other successes of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second biggest city, off to the west.

Last week, just before the Kilpatrick ruling, AARP in its Magazine called Grand Rapids one the top five best, low-cost places in America to retire. Last year Forbes magazine dubbed Grand Rapids the No. 1 city for raising a family.

Cheers to the founding DeVos and VanAndel families of Amway and other companies, such as Universal Products that were instrumental in creating the civic, medical and other institutions that are so important to the city’s early and current successes.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.