It’s been often said — I’ve heard it more than once from local media types — that “when it comes to Detroit, we’re all on the same team”
If there is any lesson, any legacy from the Kilpatrick Enterprise verdict it’s this: We all aren’t on the same team. At least we shouldn’t be.
It’s our obligation — especially journalists, but really all citizens — to be skeptical and at times openly adversarial toward people with power. This thing called self-governance is not a team sport and the rest of us needn't play pulling guard so some mayor/governor/CEO/labor leader can run one in.
It might seem hard to believe today but, shortly after Kwame Kilpatrick was re-elected in 2005, there was this idea permeating conventional wisdom that it was time to cut Kilpatrick a break. Oh sure, he made mistakes, but that was just a symptom of his youth. At least that’s how the logic went.
During his second inauguration, Kilpatrick held a reception for journalists as part of an effort to reset his relationship with the local media. Can’t we all be friends?, was the implicit message. While the obvious answer should have been no, there were plenty willing to play nice. After all, we’re all on the same team.
Reporter or infomercial co-host
I witnessed that shameful attitude perfectly distilled following a Super Bowl week kick-off news conference. Kilpatrick came over to talk with the media and a TV reporter began the questioning by asking the mayor if “this was Detroit Love?”
Detroit Love was one of the many booster slogans (see “Next Detroit,” “Detroit 2.0,” “Kids, Cops, Clean,” etc.) Kilaptrick tried out during his term. Asking Kwame Kilpatrick if x=Detroit Love is the stuff of infomercial co-hosts, not reporters.
Now, the Super Bowl was well-executed and downtown that week was a blast, but journalists should be able to discuss even obviously positive things with elected officials without sounding like cheerleaders at a high school pep rally.
One of the reasons guys like Kilpatrick think they can, and sometimes do, get away with behaving like common gangsters fleecing a Teamster pension fund is they cow enough of the rest of us into believing that any discouraging word will upset some pre-determined gameplan.
If we are brutally honest with ourselves, anyone who had been willing to cut Kilpatrick some slack is an unindicted co-conspirator in the RICO charges that he was convicted of today. We all tolerated graft in our hearts.
Long overdue legal debt
Without the troublemakers (i.e. M.L. Elrick and Jim Schaefer, among others) who risked being branded as Detroit haters — not just by Kilpatrick partisans but so many others, including journalists who are only too happy to carry water for Important People in exchange for access — we may not have reached this day where Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson are made to pay a legal debt that at long last has come due.
And that lesson should extend beyond Kilpatrick and other low-hanging fruit, like Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, to cover all politicians, contractors, movers-and-shakers, and assorted other Important People.
Kilpatrick, a jury of his peers determined, fleeced Detroit. We can see the negative consequences of that graft all around us.
However, Kilpatrick had a lot of helping pushing Detroit to this brink. Whether it’s by corruption or ineptitude or myopias, Detroit has been ill served by our leaders. Kilpatrick was caught largely because he ignored the age-old lesson of anyone running the long con: You can shear a sheep many times, but skin him only once.
Plenty of other Important People still are giving this town a haircut. Just because someone holds a title and is capable of being charming doesn’t mean he/she is our teammate or friend or even a good person. Ultimately, these people have a job to do. They should be rigorously and exclusively judged on how well they do it. Again, if we are brutally honest, we’d have to conclude that most of them mostly have done and continue to do their jobs poorly.
If that isn’t Detroit Love, well, tough shit.