A protracted scandal that has paralyzed Detroit and made its city government a spectacle for much of the US ended Thursday when Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to two felony counts, abruptly ending his tenure as mayor and giving the city a new and uncertain future.
The plea agreement calls for Mr. Kilpatrick to serve four months in jail and five years’ probation, leave office within two weeks, pay $1 million in restitution to the city, and surrender his law license. It came even as Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) was conducting a hearing, at the request of the Detroit City Council, into whether she should take the unusual step of removing Kilpatrick from office.
For a troubled Detroit, the deal concludes eight months of limbo that began after steamy text messages between Kilpatrick and a political aide became public. It also ends a mayoral tenure that has included both striking accomplishments and titillating scandal. City Council President Ken Cockrel is set to become interim mayor, and a special election is likely to be held in several months to elect a permanent mayor.
Kilpatrick was charged in March with eight felony counts, including perjury, obstruction of justice, and misconduct in office. Two more counts were added in August. He pleaded guilty Thursday to obstruction of justice through committing perjury.
Ever since he took office in 2002 at age 31, Kilpatrick has grabbed media attention. Dubbed America’s “Hip-Hop Mayor” and known for his flashy clothes and winsome charisma, he pledged to bring a renaissance to struggling Detroit. Many say he has helped the Rust Belt city, bringing in new development projects and promises of jobs, and recently announcing a deal with Quicken Loans that would move its headquarters and 4,000 employees from Livonia, Mich., to downtown Detroit.
“If you look at downtown Detroit now and compare it to what it looked like when he came into office, the turnaround is obvious,” says Earl Ryan, director of the Citizens Research Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that doesn’t take official positions on elected leaders. “He had good relations with the business community. I think it’s fairly evident that good things were happening.”
For the time being, the city’s myriad economic and social troubles, which have worsened as the auto industry has faltered during the credit crunch, fall into the lap of Mr. Cockrel, the interim mayor.