September 5, 2008 at 6:52 pm

Detroit 'set me up for a comeback'

In exit speech, mayor says he will lead again

Carlita Kilpatrick stands by her husband, Kwame Kilpatrick, during his press conference Thursday evening at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

DETROIT -- Let there be no doubt: Kwame Kilpatrick intends to return.

On a day when his childhood dreams of being mayor ended with guilty pleas and his resignation, Kilpatrick let everyone know that, at age 38, he wholeheartedly expects to be a leader again.

"I want to tell you, Detroit, that you done set me up for a comeback," Kilpatrick said Thursday in the last, near-defiant words of a brief goodbye speech to the city.

Kilpatrick took to the airwaves for about 20 minutes. In a speech that was vintage Kilpatrick, he acknowledged mistakes but brimmed with bravado. Surrounded by his wife, Carlita, mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, and other relatives, the outgoing mayor was greeted with whoops, "amens" and applause as he reeled off his accomplishments.

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

Kilpatrick urged residents to support the interim mayor, Council President Kenneth V. Cockrel Jr.

The speech included a broadside against Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who began removal hearings against him Wednesday. Kilpatrick said he "wished her well," but claimed she was fueled by "political ambition" and should spend as much time on Detroit's problems.

A Granholm spokeswoman, Liz Boyd, responded by wishing Kilpatrick "godspeed" and noting that "with this behind us, leaders of our state and Detroit can devote 100 percent of their attention to growing the economy and creating jobs."

Kilpatrick is banned from seeking office during his five-year probation. But if he wants to lead again, experts say he will likely follow a well-worn path to redemption. It will include an honest appraisal of his sins and public penance.

"Then he has to disappear," said Evangelia Souris, a Boston-based image consultant who has advised senators and congressmen.

But so many public officials before him have committed sins only to rise again: Marion Barry in Washington, D.C., and Buddy Cianci of Providence, R.I. Both men returned to office following notorious scandals that brought them down.

It's not a question of if. It's more a question of when.

"Time is the best medicine for these things," Souris said.

Kilpatrick will have the time. His conviction will force him out of office Sept. 18 and into jail for four months beginning Oct. 28. But he'll be 43 when his probation ends.

Should anyone doubt that a comeback is possible, consider: In 2001, the same year Kilpatrick became mayor, Detroit voters welcomed back Barbara-Rose Collins and Alonzo Bates, installing both to City Council seats.

Collins left Congress in shame in 1997, ousted by voters in the primary. The House ethics commission concluded she had pocketed money intended for constituent service, needy children and her re-election. Bates had been relieved of his duties with the city recreation department and was on the school board when the state dissolved it and took over the district.

"People, it's easy for them to forgive," said Adolph Mongo, a local political consultant. "They have short memories."

After talking about his successes and failings, Kilpatrick recalled the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once said, "There are no second acts in American lives," a self-deprecating knock on his own misfortune.

But Kilpatrick said Fitzgerald must not have been a Detroiter. "We fall, but this city always gets up."

You can reach Mike Wilkinson at (313) 222-2563 or mwilkinson@detnews.com">mwilkinson@detnews.com.