Bankole: Another hope crushed in Bert Johnson

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Brilliant is the word often used by some supporters to describe state Sen. Bert Johnson, who is facing mounting legal trouble as the feds seek to prove in court that he is a corrupt politician.

The same word was used to describe another politician and once proud son of Detroit: Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor now serving lengthy prison time after being convicted of running a criminal enterprise out of city hall.

Johnson, according to recently released court documents, is accused of placing a ghost employee on the public payroll for his own benefit.

The latest revelation of a secret recording of him allegedly plotting with the ghost employee raises disturbing questions about the honesty of the Highland Park legislator, who was supposed to be on a redemptive comeback after an earlier brush with the law.

Johnson is innocent until proven guilty. Like every other politician accused of wrongdoing, he deserves his day in court. The allegations against him, meanwhile, are not only damning but very disturbing. And puts another kink in the public’s confidence in their elected officials.

The Kilpatrick trial was a painful exercise in learning what politicians should not do when in office, and the need to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. In Kilpatrick, we saw a man with unbelievable potential go down the drain. He took with him other promising young leaders in his administration, who are still trying to recover.

The Johnson situation may not have the same set of characters and colorfulness as the Kilpatrick case. But it will mark another significant and sad chapter in Detroit where we see a politician who was believed by his constituents cast by the feds as a greedy politician. And the feds have a pretty good track record in this town of hitting the mark when they strike on officials accused of deceiving the public.

As in the Kilpatrick case, some of Johnson’s supporters may push the race card to try to salvage his reputation and paint him as another black politician struck by prosecutors who want to render white justice to a man they consider devoted to the black cause.

Unfortunately, that theory would be hard to sell in this case because Johnson’s constituents are black and he is accused of betraying them.

While race matters in how justice is meted out, it cannot be used as an excuse by any politician — regardless of skin color — who attempts to scam the public.

At some point, as one Johnson admirer shocked by the allegations told me recently, “We need to get our house in order and this is not the example we set for our kids.”

Being an elected official in any capacity is an honor. Those who occupy elected office have an inescapable obligation of living up to that honor.

Facing allegations of stealing public money is the ultimate breach of public trust because no call to duty is greater than public service.

That is why those who serve in the public interest must submit to the highest standards of integrity and not be easily swayed by the desire or the lure of the office to engage in misuse of their role for personal gain.

Twitter: @bankieT

The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.