The mayor of Detroit in the sex scandal
It’s freezing cold in Detroit, and the Great Auto Show is rolling, but anyone can talk about the scandal devouring Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the one a local TV station calls “Sex, Lies, and Text” . Once known as America’s first hip-hop mayor, Kilpatrick, 37, had notably toned down his lifestyle during his second term as mayor of Motown. But this week, his past as a party animal caught up with him. The Detroit Free Press published text messages between Kilpatrick (married and father) and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty (divorced with children), which appear to confirm what the two have denied under oath: having had an illicit affair. “I’ve dreamed all day of having you all to myself for three days,” Kilpatrick wrote to Beatty on his pager issued by the city in 2002, according to the Free-Press findings. “Relax, laugh, talk, sleep and have sex.”
Politics and sex scandals go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly. Ask Larry Craig and Bill Clinton. But what makes this one extraordinary are the efforts of the forbidden lovers to cover up their dates. In April 2002, just four months after Kilpatrick’s first term, rumors emerged of a wild party involving a stripper at the mayor’s mansion. Around the same time, one of the mayor’s bodyguards, Harold Nelthrope, reported that the mayor’s personal police were mad, crushing cars and racking up overtime. Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown has launched an investigation, which may have uncovered the underground couple. But two weeks after his investigation began, Brown was fired. A month later, Brown and Nelthrope filed a lawsuit against Kilpatrick and the town, which ultimately went to trial last summer. Kilpatrick and Beatty insisted under oath that there was no affair and that they had not fired Brown. Even without the text messages that seem to make them liars now, the jury is out against Kilpatrick and the town. The case ended up being settled for $ 9 million from Detroit taxpayers – or, as the Free Press estimated, the equivalent of the salaries of 126 police officers.
Now Kilpatrick and Beatty could face charges of perjury – a 15-year offense. County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said on Friday she was opening an investigation, which should include how Free Press obtained the text messages the city failed to deliver in last summer’s trial. Worthy promises to be “fair, impartial and thorough. We will not be rushed by anyone or anything.”
As you might expect, there is outrage all over Detroit and calls for the head of the mayor. “He’s an embarrassment and he’s now proven to be a habitual liar,” municipal union boss John Riehl told NEWSWEEK. Riehl, who represents 900 Detroit workers in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, picks them up at City Hall on Wednesday to demand Kilpatrick’s resignation. “He put Detroit’s national image in the gutter.”
You might think that this city on wheels of nearly a million people didn’t have that far to fall, considering the economic wreck left by his signature spray industry. But after almost losing his candidacy for re-election in 2005, the mayor seemed to mature. The beefy former college football player toned down the bling (he pulled out his big diamond earring) and overpowered the arrogance. He began to gain traction in his efforts to clean up the city and attract new businesses. Super Bowl XL went off without a hitch two years ago, and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert recently announced plans to move his company headquarters, Quicken Loans, to downtown Detroit. “This in no way precludes Quick Loans or its sister companies from moving forward with our plans to build a head office in downtown Detroit,” Gilbert said in a statement. “Our commitment is long term and transcends any short term event or challenge.”
Yet if Kilpatrick is forced to resign, all trade bets are void. Efforts may slow to modernize and expand Cobo Hall, home to the annual Detroit auto show, which injects much-needed half a billion dollars into the local economy. Already, the threadbare convention center is losing business to other auto shows in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Porsche, for example, skipped the Detroit show this year for the first time in 20 years. “If he leaves, I hope we don’t reverse the progress made,” said economist David Sowerby of Loomis Sayles, who just appeared with Kilpatrick at a press conference on Cobo Hall. “He was as gregarious and engaging as ever, but that was last week.”
What does Kilpatrick have to say for himself? Not a lot. He has been isolated since the news broke, skipping an important meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington. First, he and his family fled to their vacation home in Florida (where a press photographer caught him visibly kissing his wife). After the media tracked him down there, he returned to Detroit, but did not emerge to face the legion of lenses outside his front door. His press service refuses all interview requests, including those from NEWSWEEK, and stands by a statement he released on Wednesday evening: “These five and six year old text messages reflect a very difficult time in my life. It is deeply embarrassing to have these extremely private messages now displayed so publicly. My wife and I worked through these intensely personal issues years ago. “
Beatty is also in hiding, but she sent her pastor to speak for her on local television. “She is absolutely devastated by what she has been involved in,” Reverend Ronald L. Griffin told WXYZ-TV. “She’s not looking for any excuse. She’s devastated and ashamed.”
What’s next for the mayor? “When the time comes, we’ll let you know,” said deputy press secretary James Canning. (In a sad irony, the mayor’s chief press secretary is in rehab after pleading guilty last month to slamming his wife’s head through a window in a rage of drunkenness. Kilpatrick stayed behind. his side, refusing to fire or demote him.)
The mayor’s attempt to turn his banter and denial into a long-standing love affair that he now regrets doesn’t seem to win him much sympathy. Inspired by another CEO caught lying about an affair, The Detroit News published a political cartoon Friday showing Kilpatrick on a podium, pointing his finger smugly and saying, “I didn’t have a text with that woman! “
What is most astonishing about the texts, however, is that they reveal just how brazenly the mayor conducted his dangerous affair. On a visit to Washington in 2002 for the Congressional Black Caucus legislative conference (Kilpatrick’s mother is Representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, who represents Michigan’s 13th District in the United States House), the mayor and his leader cabinet staff shared a room in his DC hotel while his bodyguards stood guard. “They were right outside the door,” Kilpatrick wrote to Beatty the next day. “They must have heard it all.” Beatty replied, “So we’re officially destroyed! LOL.” (Text language for “laugh out loud.”) To which Kilpatrick reassured her: “LOL LOL! Damn. Never broken. That’s what you see! LOL.” No, bust is what you are reading. And no one is LOLing now.