Corruption is not dead
Kwame Kilpatrick and Bobby Ferguson were convicted this week. The region responded with an OJ-like verdict division. Some reacted with pure glee. Banners were flown reading, “Don’t drop the soap.” One news anchor, who the day before was piss-drunk and getting punched in the head at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, was asking the “important questions” — and this was just the media. By day’s end, the Feds and the media had declared corruption dead in Detroit. As if.
Whether you supported Kilpatrick, despised his policies as mayor or hated him personally, upon sentencing, it was hard for most Detroiters not to be sad for their city. Perhaps it was because, in all the media hoopla, Kwame Kilpatrick became a symbol. A symbol for what some believe must be beat down in the city — arrogance, youth, colorful suits, power-wielding, hip hop.
In the end, it wasn’t even about Kilpatrick. Let’s not pretend this was about corruption. We dare any city, county, state or federal contractor to open their books and prove they are unimpeachable stewards of public money. Bobby Ferguson, at least, hired Detroiters, paid taxes to the city and ran his business from the west side. For most, Kilpatrick was guilty before his federal trial began. Hate him or love him, if Kilpatrick were mayor today he would not work with the governor to cede the city to an emergency financial manager, if only because he understood the importance of directing the money and power himself.
Corruption is not dead in Detroit. The corrupted still hold office and seek contracts. They are still peddling deals and money. Emergency financial management is only another form of corruption. Kilpatrick has been found guilty but the systems haven’t changed. In fact, things are about to get a lot worse. The newly released video evidence of Bernard Kilpatrick making deals with Synagro executive James Rosendall is sickening. Wearing a sweatshirt with King Tut, the Egyptian pharoah, on it, the senior Kilpatrick does a shameful dance between bravado and begging.
After emergency management, some guy in Lansing wearing a $3,000 navy blue suit sitting at a long, shiny conference room table won’t get passed cash in a gum wrapper but will receive a check. This kind of corruption will be deemed appropriate by the culture, the press and the IRS. We do not excuse corruption in any form by any one; we just recognize who gets away with it.
The trial and the video show that despite Detroit’s financial distress, the city isn’t broke but needs better management, vision and priorities, which will not come from the state. Jones Day, the law firm Mayor Bing has hired to restructure the city’s finances, which took $12 million in fees from the TARP bailout during the first month, will have one of its partners as EFM of Detroit. Lobbyists will get paid. No-bid contracts let. Institutions closed. Jobs lost. The banks will be satisfied. All at the expense of city workers, city residents and silenced city taxpayers.
Because two men go to jail does not mean corruption has ended in Detroit.