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.”