Trying To Get Into the Mind of Kwame Kilpatrick
A door opened the other day, and I had to blink at what I saw on the other side: Kwame Kilpatrick.
This Kwame sighting was a total surprise. Our paths just happened to cross downtown.
Kilpatrick looked great. He's slim. No bags under the eyes that would hint at lack of sleep. He seems younger than 42. He was smiling. He acted happy.
You would never know he was in town for the start of jury selection in his corruption trial. It seemed like he was about to leave on a nice vacation.
We know each other slightly because when he was mayor of Detroit, I worked for the Free Press. When he was a salesman for Compuware's Covisint subsidiary, I was Compuware's P.R. person.
I wasn't sure what to say to someone preparing for trial on a 48-count indictment. So I asked how the family is doing.
He lit up. Like any proud father, Kilpatrick pulled out his cell phone and showed me photos of his impressive-looking twins, who play football for their high school outside Dallas.
I mentioned "Friday Night Lights," the book and TV show that dealt with high school football in Texas, where the Kilpatricks live. He said they take prep football so seriously down there that 30,000 fans attend games and some teams travel on jet airplanes.
Kilpatrick appeared natural and down to earth. I wondered how he can face the possibility of many years in prison and still keep the charisma machine turned on.
I think it's fair to say many people, if charged with running a criminal enterprise and dogged by the FBI, would be cowering under the covers and calling for mommy.
Many defendants in big-time trials act taciturn and even embarrassed. Like Victor Mercado, one of Kilpatrick's fellow defendants, whose expression ranges from glum to depressed.
Future jury members might be watching, after all.
There are exceptions. Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor convicted of corruption, walked jauntily to and from federal court, but he looked like a shrinking violet next to Kilpatrick, whose friendly eyes searched the street for supporters as he walked to court Wednesday morning. And he found a number of fans, who treated him like visiting royalty.
I wonder what's behind Kilpatrick's swagger. Is he simply taking chutzpah to a new level, or is it epic self-delusion, or egomania? Is it a facade? Is that how he acts in private?
One day many months ago, I heard Kilpatrick defending himself from the cascade of charges, leaks and rumors since the text-message scandal broke in 2008. This was before the federal indictment was announced.
He took the various allegations one by one and knocked them down. They say I took bribes, but I had nothing to do with contracts, he said. They say I hid money but I answered all the questions truthfully, he said. This went on for a minute or so. He denied, denied, denied.
Then Kilpatrick summed up his position. He was smiling, but his tone was earnest.
"You know," he said, "my only problem is pussy."
That was his analysis of an agonizing saga that has cost Detroit residents millions of dollars and disrupted a city government that barely functions in normal times.
How does someone process events and come up with such a conclusion?
It was not the first time narcissism had surfaced during the scandal years.
On the day almost four years ago when Kilpatrick pleaded guilty and agreed to resign from the mayor's office, he acted chastened, but the bluster wasn't far from the surface.
"I want to tell you, Detroit, that you done set me up for a comeback," he said.
His trial is scheduled to start in about a month. I'm curious how he will behave in front of the jury.
How will he react to the repeated accusations and statements of wrong-doing that will come from the government and its witnesses? How he will handle the tension of deliberations?
And, after weeks of testimony and legal wrangling, when the jury walks into the courtroom with the verdict, and Kilpatrick's life hangs in the balance, how will he act?
Will the swagger still be there?