It could be an item on a David Letterman Top Ten List of "How to Know Your Mayor is Headed for a Major Scandal" -- he's known as the "Hip-Hop Mayor."
That's what they call Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, now famous for text messages detailing the affair he had with his chief of staff. Kilpatrick had denied the relationship under oath in a lawsuit brought by two police officers Kilpatrick allegedly fired to cover up his personal misconduct. He has been indicted on eight felony counts including perjury and obstruction of justice.
This would just be another dreary entry in the long annals of misbehaving politicians if it weren't for the backdrop of a decaying city. Elected at age 31 in 2002, Kilpatrick was supposed to bring youthful vitality to his job, and he talked about reform. Now, he's just another tragedy to befall Detroit, a city whose decline is -- as psychologists put it -- overdetermined, but stands as a stark statement of the failure of urban liberalism.
Detroit suffers from every possible malady except a plague of locusts, and that's only because they find urban living uncongenial. The city has a revitalized downtown, but all around it, the city rots. Forbes magazine declared Detroit "America's Most Miserable City," on the basis of its unemployment and crime rates, among other things. The unemployment rate of 8.2 percent is the highest of any major urban area in the nation, and its homicide rate is higher than New York's in the bad old days of the early 1990s.
The city has lost 1 million residents since 1950. It was hit by the decline of the auto industry and white flight, fueled partly by racism. These trends would have rocked the city no matter what. Detroit compounded them with disastrous governance, personified by Mayor Coleman Young, who held office for 20 years beginning in 1974.
His record raises the question why, if it wanted to engage in a nefarious plot to hurt blacks, the federal government would invent the AIDS virus when it could simply emplace mayors like Coleman Young instead. "Imagine a Rev. Jeremiah Wright with real power," says urban expert Fred Siegel. Coleman taunted suburbanites, accusing them of "pillaging the city," while his scandal-plagued administration managed the city into the ground.
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