He neglected policing, maintaining that "crime is a problem, but not the problem. The police are the major threat ... to the minority community." The 1968 riots never really ended in Detroit, dragging on in a long crime wave. With government services terrible to nonexistent and both crime and tax rates high, there was no reason for anyone to stay. "Several Detroit mayors have been the best economic development officers Oakland County ever had," comments Michael LaFaive of the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, referring to the county to Detroit's north.
Public-sector unions protect the dismal status quo. Detroit high schools graduate just a third of their students, according to an estimate by Michigan State University. But when a philanthropist offered to spend $200 million to create 15 new charter high schools, teachers staged a walk-out. Mayor Kilpatrick spurned the offer. These failing schools throw kids with no skills into a struggling economy in an environment characterized by social breakdown.
No matter what Mayor Kilpatrick did with his chief of staff or how many lies he has told, this is the true scandal of Detroit -- and too many American cities. In the wake of the controversy over Rev. Wright, Barack Obama called for a national conversation on race. But we talk about race incessantly already, and Mayor Kilpatrick will carry on his own dialogue by playing on black fears with charges of "selective prosecution."
What would better serve the interests of African-Americans and the country is a national conversation about good urban governance -- how to crack down on crime, reform the schools and free the economy from sclerotic government. Detroit awaits it, as its disgraced mayor twists in the wind.