Kwame Kilpatrick's conviction on 24 federal criminal counts at his corruption trial this week was staggering and jaw-dropping.
There's been a wide variety of reaction to the verdicts, from shock, to anger, to resignation, to glee.One Kilpatrick critic even hired a private pilot to fly a banner over downtown suggesting the mayor not drop his soap in the prison shower when he eventually gets sentenced to what certainly will be a long prison term by federal judge Nancy Edmunds.
Perhaps the most common reaction has been a somewhat sympathetic one toward the former mayor, bemoaning his lost opportunity for leadership greatness, potential gone to waste because greed somehow overcame him.
But that sentiment overlooks a clear and glaring reality: Kwame Kilpatrick was never in the political world to improve the lives of others. He was in it to improve his own life.
Politics was simply his path to greed, to enriching himself, and it dates to his days as a state legislator when he established the first of the foundations he was intent on using for his own benefit, not that of the constituents he was elected to represent.
Kilpatrick's multiple foundations were ostensibly created to improve "voter education" for an electorate he was intent on fooling, and "educational opportunity" for youngsters he used as props to funnel money for his own use.
The ex-mayor once appeared on my WJR Radio show where I grilled him in studio, face-to-face, about those foundations.
He insisted the Kilpatrick funds were used for noble purposes but never really explained why over $200,000 in annual donations resulted in only $25,000 in scholarship funds, instead insisting that I visit the foundation headquarters to watch the programs in action.
When I later followed up to seek such a drop-in, I never got a response from the Kilpatrick camp, so the foundation's work remained non-transparent.
A local reporter told me that Kilpatrick and his followers created their own description of such tactics called "sand in the face," where they would simply use diversions to steer the conversation away from the facts being sought.
Kilpatrick's long-standing use of foundation donations for his own purposes was just one of the ways he used his office to live his own regal lifestyle.
His trial produced evidence of private jet flights, expensive vacation trips, the purchase of golf clubs and the acquisition of a high-end clothing collection.
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson recalled lunches at the high-end Capitol Grille in Troy where he and Kilpatrick would dine at a table while the ex-mayor ensured that four others surrounding them were kept unoccupied to assure isolation.
There was the trip to a European auto show where Kilpatrick demanded 20 expensive rooms, eventually settling for about half that, to ensure that his ever-present entourage would include enough people for a high-life foreign party.
Similar stories were told of the then-mayor's Super Bowl scouting mission to Jacksonville, Fla., the year before Detroit hosted Super Bowl XL in 2006.
Then, of course, there was Kilpatrick's personal appetite for extramarital liaisons that led to his first jail term for perjury.
We had plenty of evidence that as legislator and mayor, Kilpatrick was placing his self-interest above those he was supposed to be serving.
By the time of his re-election bid in 2005, stories about Kilpatrick's habits were widespread, including reports of inside deals on city contracts, lavish spending on city credit cards, a reduction in city services and municipal failures involving the water system and Belle Isle.
My own boss at the time, well-connected WJR general manager Mike Fezzey, had told me long before that Kilpatrick was "a thug," an analysis that proved sadly prescient.
Kilpatrick was re-elected anyway.
And that brings us to the true tragedy of the ex-mayor's plight. People don't become thugs overnight. They don't wake up one morning and decide this is the day they begin fleecing the public.
Such behavior is practiced over time and, for Kilpatrick, that includes his entire political career.
This is not a story of wasted talent. This is a story of how easily the public can be conned by self-dealing politicians.
Now the question becomes not whether politicians learn a lesson, but whether the public does in choosing its leaders in the future.
Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760).
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