Friday, September 5, 2008

Detroit mayor, soon off to jail, talks of comeback

DETROIT - Only hours after agreeing to resign and serve time in jail as part of plea deal, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick expressed regret for the scandal that has engulfed the city — and left the door open for a return to public life.

Kilpatrick walked into a City Hall conference room Thursday to thunderous applause and thanked his family, backers and staff members for sticking by him during his rocky 6 1/2-year tenure.

"I truly know who I am. I truly know where I come from. In Detroit I know who I am. And I know because of that, there's another day for me," he said in a 20-minute speech on live television. "I want to tell you, Detroit, that you done set me up for a comeback."

In exchange for pleading guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice, the Democrat will get four months behind bars, pay the city $1 million in restitution, lose his license to practice law, and cannot run for any elected office for five years.

His resignation will take effect in two weeks and his sentence will be officially imposed on Oct. 28. Under the city charter, any mayor guilty of a felony is automatically expelled from office.

"I always said I would stand strong for the city of Detroit," the 38-year-old mayor said in his address. "But sometimes standing strong means stepping down."

Coming after nearly eight months of turmoil and demands that Kilpatrick resign, the plea bargain was met with relief from politicians and ordinary Detroit residents alike.

His departure could also remove a major embarrassment for Barack Obama and the Democrats in Michigan, a crucial battleground state in the presidential election.

"This gives us hope. He's not a king," said Monica Smith, 24, of Detroit, a college student. "This is a huge victory for the city of Detroit. He was not a role model. He was a thug. I'm definitely optimistic."

Ken Cockrel Jr., the 42-year-old president of the Detroit City Council, will take over as mayor. He said people need to put aside the anger and bitterness of Kilpatrick's sex scandal.

"What we're going to have to focus on really is restoring the credibility not only of the mayor's office, but also of the city of Detroit," Cockrel said. "There is going to be a need for a healing period in the city of Detroit."

The plea bargain came just one day after Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm convened an extraordinary hearing on whether to oust Kilpatrick as mayor.

"I would hope that Michigan citizens will demonstrate our compassion as a people and pray for the mayor's family," Granholm said after the deal.

The scandal stems from a whistleblower lawsuit filed by two former police officers who accused Kilpatrick of retaliating against them for trying to investigate misconduct by the mayor and his security detail. Questioned under oath in 2004 and 2007, Kilpatrick repeatedly denied having an affair with his chief of staff, Christine Beatty.

But the Detroit Free Press later obtained text messages between the two — some of them sexually explicit — and published excerpts. Kilpatrick and Beatty were later charged.

In addition to perjury, Kilpatrick was accused of misleading City Council when he secured its approval of an $8.4 million settlement with three former police officers. Prosecutors said he settled to keep the text messages from becoming public.

On Thursday, Kilpatrick also pleaded no contest to assault, for allegedly shoving a detective who was trying to serve a subpoena in the text-message case. His sentence in that case will be served at the same time as the one for obstruction.

"I take full responsibility for my own actions and for the poor judgment that they reflected," Kilpatrick said. "I wish with all my heart that we could turn back the hands of time and tell that young man to make better choices, but I can't."

The son of a Detroit congresswoman, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Kilpatrick was 31 when he was elected in 2001, becoming the youngest mayor in Detroit history. His youth, energy and diamond stud earring endeared Kilpatrick to many fellow blacks, especially young ones.

But Kilpatrick's first term was tumultuous. He came under fire for racking up thousands of dollars in travel on his city-issued credit card and leasing a luxury Lincoln Navigator for his wife.

Under his leadership, though, Detroit landed baseball's 2005 All-Star Game and the 2006 Super Bowl. And Kilpatrick's ability to work with business leaders also has been credited with an overhaul of the city's riverfront and development downtown.
Associated Press writers David Runk in Detroit and Kathy Barks Hoffman in Lansing, Mich., contributed to this report.


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