At his first inaugural — a gala of tears, laughter, and babies crawling on the stage — the new mayor referred to a new entity, the Kilpatrick Administration.
Eleven years later, a jury has convicted the former mayor of running "The Kilpatrick Enterprise" — a criminal organization that grazed on taxpayer and contractor dollars as if the mayor were a king, and the city's contracts, his rightful tribute. "No doubt, no fear," he said, as he was led away in handcuffs.
He could always master the moment with a ready quip, a confident slogan. The real surprise was a jury that took note of each other's differences but focused on finding fact. No reasonable doubt, they said.
If Kilpatrick was a corrupter, this jury of his peers are redeemers. He disappointed constituents and true-believers, from working people to business titans.
The jury offered an uplifting lesson in American citizenship, a startling example of the system, working.
In his heyday, the young mayor was dramatic, charismatic and seemingly immune to guilt — glib and self-confident and dazzling, at times. The 12 men and women on the jury were his opposites: They addressed themselves to the gritty, unglamorous task of sitting in a jury box, day after day, listening to testimony and diligently following instructions.
In the end, the jury proved to be exceptional by any measure, which is to say it did its job.
If only Kwame Kilpatrick, the Mayor, had done the same.
Instead, he walks off as a shamed public figure who most succeeded at being less than his best self most of the time we knew him.
Eventually we came to see him as the prized son who embarrassed his mother; the husband and father who cheated on his wife and lied to his children; the mayor who betrayed his city.
"I thought he could be a good leader," said one of the jurors, a Detroit resident who voted for him twice.
The disappointment she described was shared by many of us who once hoped Kilpatrick would deliver greatness rather than great disappointment.
The jurors' mission was no less difficult — but they were determined to live up to what was expected of them. "We followed the evidence," said one juror.
It sounds so simple.
But following the rules was beneath Kwame Kilpatrick. Elected in an era of already parsed expectations, he succeeded in driving them down.
"We can't waste four more years or eight more years," he said that first inaugural night in 2002. A decade later, waste is Kilpatrick's legacy. Waste of talent, resources and opportunity.
The jury did not waste its service. More to the point, each member understood how heavily we were counting on their sincerity and honesty, their willingness to serve as the community conscience.
Their unanimous, carefully deliberated verdict is a salve for a decade of wounds. At the very least, it hints at a way forward.
Laura Berman’s column appears on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Reach her at email@example.com or (313) 222-2032.
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