by | Mar 25, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

They call him the Hip-Hop Mayor, but that always has been misleading, for he is less a musician than a jock, with a jock’s sense of entitlement, a jock’s bully muscle, a jock’s entourage, a jock’s approach to women, and, most of all, a jock’s eternal belief that he can fight his way out of anything.

Having seen enough sports scandals, the Kwame Kilpatrick mess feels all too familiar. First, like an athlete in hot water, he blames rumors. When it’s proven more than rumors, he blames “haters.” When it’s proven more than haters, he blames the media. When it’s proven more than media, he blames racism. When it’s proven more than racism – when it’s proven to be tangible, chargeable, real legal trouble – he gets the best lawyer money can buy.

So now Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is in the biggest fight of his career, one that parallels many high-profile athletes who insist “they’re out to get me.” First, others take the fall, as happened with Michael Vick and Tonya Harding and Barry Bonds. Eventually the net tightens. And finally, we have a moment as we did Monday, where the star is fingerprinted and has his photo taken.

And his lawyers start talking. The game must go on …

Remember, Kilpatrick, the second-term mayor, was once a lineman for Florida A&M, captain of the football team. And having known and observed him for years, I have often thought he views himself like a superstar athlete, a member of the “in” crowd, entitled to star treatment, security, sleek vehicles, family members on the payroll. He does this while emboldened by a fervent “home” crowd that will love him simply because he wears the right uniform.

And, like some of the sports stars he often hugs and chats up, he feels the show cannot go on without him. The most maddening of all Kilpatrick’s deceptions is that he is the only man who can run this city. He forgets there were mayors before him and there will be mayors after him. Certainly many people can run it better than him now, without the shadow of criminal charges and the daily drain of lawyers, worry and anger.

But Kilpatrick wants to play on, like Kobe Bryant with a sexual-assault charge, flying into court in the morning and back for a game at night, like Pete Rose, insisting he can still manage his team despite a Dowd Report that he gambled on baseball.

“I look forward to complete exoneration,” the mayor said Monday. “… In the meantime, I will remain focused on moving this city forward.”

As the famous quote goes, “A painter paints, a fighter fights …”

Play ball. And there is no endgame …

The difference is, of course, that you are elected mayor by the people, you didn’t sign a contract with a guaranteed salary. In sports, if you can perform, they’ll pry open the vault, pull the fence out of the ground, because sports serves one master, winning, that is all that matters.

In public office, winning is only how you get there, not how you stay. There are different rules. Rules of behavior. Rules of ethics. As mayor, the word “honorable” comes before your name.

Which means you can’t just wiggle out of a tackle, foul when the ref isn’t looking, find a way to win and all is forgiven. Kilpatrick’s predictable attempts to kill these charges by technicalities (How do you know I used the pager? Who says the text messages are admissible?) shows this is just about winning now.

But that should surprise no one. His arrogance is his armor. And any thought of this guy quitting for the good of the city can be trashed right now.

He is the quarterback with an entire football field to cover and 11 men in front of him, a jump shooter with six hands in his face and a parking lot between him and the basket. And still he believes he is entitled to survive, not just survive but to prevail, so he will run, leap, shoot with everything in him, and only history will judge him, perhaps as sad, perhaps as pathetic. Won’t matter. In his mind, he’s the king, he’s entitled, he’s doing what a fighter does. He’s fighting. You’ll have to drag him out by his ears.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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