Commentary: A Sad Postscript in the Career of Kwame Kilpatrick

The sentencing of the former Detroit mayor to 28 years in prison is a stark showcase of a once promising career gone wrong.

Posted: 10/10/2013 04:31 PM EDT

When Kwame Kilpatrick first burst on the political scene in the late 1990s, he was widely considered to embody the hopes and dreams of a beleaguered city. By the time he was elected in 2001 as the youngest mayor in Detroit’s history, many considered this charismatic politician to be precisely what the city needed to move it to a new era of vitality.

But what followed in the career of Kilpatrick has been heartbreaking for many Detroiters. In a saga that seemed to go on for years as a sordid, political reality show, Kilpatrick’s career wound up as a highly public drama of one misdeed after another. There were charges, followed by trials, followed by more charges and more trials.

And so his sentencing represents the latest chapter in a career that has been as disappointing as it has been despicable. A federal judge on Thursday sentenced the one-time hip hop mayor to 28 years in prison for corruption. Indeed, many in this beleaguered city believe that Kilpatrick’s misdeeds only added to the financial woes that eventually led Detroit into bankruptcy.

“At the very least, a significant sentence will send a message that this kind of conduct will not be tolerated,” said Judge Nancy G. Edmunds of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, preparing to read the sentence of the former mayor.

The 43-year-old Kilpatrick was convicted earlier this year of 24 counts ranging from extortion to racketeering. He was the most high-profile figure in a group of nearly 20 Detroit officials who were convicted of corruption in the Kilpatrick administration.

Toward the end of the trial, a prosecutor made the case of what the disgraced mayor’s tenure represented. “Kilpatrick is not the main culprit of the city’s historic bankruptcy, which is the result of larger social and economic forces at work for decades. But his corrupt administration exacerbated the crisis.”

Of course, Detroit is now known as the largest city in the nation’s history to file for bankruptcy. Clearly, Kilpatrick is not solely responsible for the economic devastation that has come to Michigan’s largest city. Still, it is clear that much of the financial hardship that has come to Detroit might have been addressed had the 68th mayor of the city been more concerned about its fiscal woes.

Since he stepped down in disgrace, the political culture in Detroit has been reeling. It is now in a netherworld of being run by an unelected emergency financial manager while elected officials operate in virtual powerlessness.

And so this postscript to the career of Kwame Kilpatrick stands as yet another wretched symbol of potential that was wasted, opportunity squandered and a city and its people being abandoned.

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(Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

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