Why did they betray the public trust,destroy their lives and cost many people their livelihoods?
They were some of the smartest people if you were shopping for public service candidates with knowledge and understanding of the nexus between government and the people.
They seemed to master the political craft that there are rules to every game, and if you abide by the rules, there should be no problem. During every mayoral campaign I covered they insisted they were always running an honest and transparent government that put probity and accountability at the center of its mission to the people.
They spoke with passion, dangling their strong neighborhood roots as an example of their love for the city. Dismissing any suspicion about their activities, even when it was obvious some of the things that happened then were plain wrong was a constant feature in their political playbook. But as it has been throughout history, the masses always maintain a redemptive spirit for those who violate the public trust. That is at the core of our humanity that those who make mistakes in office can always change when given the opportunity to revamp their approach to public service.
Because of that, they counted on that redemptive card to always bail them out when flagrant mistakes were made leaving many of us, whether we were covering them or not, wondering if anybody in that administration was really thinking. But as the old adage reminds us, every time we are dealing with politicians who rule with hubris that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
That political dictum will not go away and will always sum up the totality of the story of the once powerful Kwame Kilpatrick administration, now being federally dissected before our eyes for allegedly betraying the public trust.
The lesson here is that power, when abused, can have serious, even devastating consequences on the lives of those who are not only perpetuating the abuse but everyone associated with them, wrongly or righteously. The domino effect is drawing attention whether warranted or unwarranted on a number of people who would prefer these days to go bed at night peacefully without having to rethink their secret dealings with the once seemingly unstoppable Kilpatrick administration. It is a story unfolding every day as the political grapevine continues to feed the frenzy regarding who next will take the fall for the sins of the past. It is almost like a game of chess and everyone crossing their fingers guessing the next word that may be looked up in the dictionary that would point to their past and hoping the Feds are not informed what they did.
But these individuals were given the tremendous opportunity for public service. They wielded power and influence to make change in how city government operates and improve the lives of hard-pressed taxpayers.
When Kilpatrick first ran for office against former City Council president Gil Hill who was viewed as a defender of the old guard, his campaign was received as a breath of fresh air. A young promising Black lawmaker from Lansing with immeasurable potential for political largesse who would make a difference in people’s lives was hard to oppose.
It was difficult to believe he would make a blunder because of his deep political background, the son of a congresswoman and his father the former chief of staff to Ed McNamara, the godfather of Democratic politics in Wayne County. That kind of background, we were led to believe, was solid enough to insulate him from any trouble.
Apparently it was not.
WHAT HAPPENED with Kilpatrick and his team?
The opportunity that was given to them does not happen often. A team of young people in their late twenties and early thirties governing the 11th largest city in the nation was truly a dream story.
The Kilpatrick era ushered in somewhat of a Joshua generation at city hall with throngs of young people commissioned to serve the public.
Unfortunately for those young people, they would later discover that their bosses in the driver’s seat saw themselves as too powerful and beyond accountability, and decided they could turn the wheels of the vehicle to the wrong side of the road on the highway of progress.