Mayor's Scandal Hurts Detroit's Image

By: AP
By: AP

DETROIT (AP) -- Two years ago, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick relished the moment. It was Detroit's time to shine amid the national glare of a Super Bowl and the maligned, troubled city passed the intense scrutiny under his watch.

But sports fans in town this time around are hearing all about a sex scandal that has thrust the mayor and Detroit back into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Thousands of people descending on the Motor City this weekend for the NCAA men's basketball Midwest Regionals are learning about the mayor's perjury charges and the embarrassing text messages left on the pager of Kilpatrick's former chief of staff and apparent one-time lover.

"That's what everybody is talking about," said Democratic state Sen. Martha Scott, whose district includes part of Detroit. "Now that he's been charged, it's even worse, and I'm not sure if people will continue to come in and do business with the city."

The National Conference of Black Mayors already has snubbed Detroit in favor of New Orleans for its annual convention. And at least one other major conference won't bring its people or money downtown, according to the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The scandal sprouted in late January after the Detroit Free Press published excerpts of the steamy and sexually explicit text messages between the married mayor and ex-top aide Christine Beatty.

The messages contradicted statements made under oath by Kilpatrick and Beatty that they were not involved in a romantic relationship in 2002 and 2003. Kilpatrick also is accused of lying under oath about his role in the firing of a top police official.

After decades of population loss, high crime, racial tension and disinvestment, Detroiters began to attach themselves to a newfound sense of pride that followed baseball's 2005 All-Star Game at Comerica Park, the Super Bowl in 2006, and multimillion dollar housing developments promised downtown and along the city's once-dormant riverfront.

During his annual State of the City address earlier this month, a commanding Kilpatrick looked past the old Detroit.

"For decades, we had a reputation as a city that no one would want to visit," he read from prepared remarks. "Tonight, we are on the New York Times Travel Section list of 53 'must see' destinations around the world in 2008. Imagine that. The New York Times classifies Detroit as a 'must see' destination."

Minutes later, Kilpatrick launched a verbal attack at the City Council president and used the N-word to describe threatening e-mails and letters aimed at him in the midst of the scandal.

That led Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox to call for Kilpatrick's resignation. The city council later approved a nonbinding resolution asking the mayor to step down. After he was charged Monday, the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News called for him to resign. Kilpatrick has repeatedly said he would stay in office.

Kilpatrick - and old scars about the city's poor national image - soon became fodder for late-night comedians, including NBC host Jay Leno.

"The bad news is, he could be forced out of office," Leno said during one recent show. "The good news is, any time you get a chance to get out of Detroit, take it."

Those kinds of barbs should be expected, said Convention & Visitors Bureau head Larry Alexander. "Sure they are going to use that right now, but they are doing the same thing with New York," he said. "Any city that has issues with leadership is going to be the butt of jokes."

But the turmoil can't be good for the city's improving business climate, Scott said. "I think it's something we should not have to deal with."

Investors, especially those involved in development projects, are more concerned about Detroit having among the highest home foreclosure and unemployment rates in the country than Kilpatrick's personal troubles, said Matt Valley, editor of the National Real Estate Investor, which reports commercial real estate trends.

"In any market, there is always political strife," Valley said. "The investment and development community can work around that. They want job growth, income and population growth. That trumps all political climates."

Detroit residents hope more visitors are like John O'Neill, of Broomall, Pa., who came to cheer on the Villanova Wildcats in Friday night's NCAA tournament game.

"Workers at the stadium said 'Thank you for coming to Detroit.' Everyone has been so helpful. They are very proud of their city," he said. "They are the ones that I'll remember about Detroit, not the mayor."

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On the Net:

Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau: http://www.visitdetroit.com

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