There are children in Detroit schools who do not have enough to eat, and people living in houses without heat. There are buildings falling down and giant potholes and eyesores beyond counting.
And Kwame Kilpatrick, the mayor of this city, robbed these poor and wretched people of $9 million, as surely as if he stole it from the treasury and invested it in the Japanese stock market.
He humiliated the city of Detroit — again — in the national media, and on national television. A lawyer by training, he committed perjury, a felony that can get you years in the big house.
He lied on the witness stand, he lied under oath, he played us all for suckers. He acted with reckless abandon, with less common sense than a 6-year-old might use. He and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty, sent their incriminating text messages on city-issued devices.
Wouldn't you think a lawyer who prides himself on his own brilliance would figure out that such messages would be in the public domain, and could be brought to light someday?
Frankly, he should have assumed that they would be brought to light some day. He was an ambitious politician with many enemies. If you run for office today, you can assume that everything will become public. Certainly everything you do on the job.
Yet Kilpatrick thought like Louis XIV. That was the 17th century French king who once said, "The state is me."
Kwame Kilpatrick clearly thought, when he was elected at age 31, that the city of Detroit was his candy store. He had been coddled by his adoring parents. He grew up in a political family; had talked, when he was 9 years old, to Mayor Coleman Young about becoming mayor someday. He clearly assumed it was his birthright.
Now, he has sold us all out. I was intensely critical of the mayor's high-partying lifestyle during his first term. One of his goons, in fact, identified me as a member of a "lynch mob" during his re-election campaign, in an ad that ran in The Michigan Citizen.
Recently, I had been thinking that I had been dead wrong about him; I thought, with the guidance of the corporate community, that he had cleaned up his act. Things were happening in the city, good and positive things. I never thought the Book Cadillac would be renovated; I thought it was another Hudson's building, and that only the dynamite waited. I was, happily, dead wrong. When I read the Detroit Free Press' story last Thursday morning (a damned good work of journalism, I am happy to note), I felt sick.
Actually and incredibly sick. Oddly enough, Daniel Howes, the conservative business columnist for The Detroit News, put it best.
"At some level, no matter where you live or where you vote, the mayor of Detroit is your mayor." Now, as he added, we are all embarrassed Detroiters. You have to be a pretty stupid racist to take any delight or pleasure in this latest scandal. We're in a recession.
Detroit may be moving into a depression. The heartbreaking thing is that good things were happening. What few seem to realize is that this is not about sex.
Kwame Kilpatrick, for all I care, could have carnal knowledge of an Allis-Chalmers combine, if he paid for it. He could have had all the little girly-girls service him that he wanted. And if he paid for the rooms and broke no laws and did it on his own time, it might be disgusting or morally wrong, but it's not the public's business.
Abraham Lincoln once, on being told that Ulysses Grant was a drunk, asked what kind of whiskey he drank so that he could send a case to his less successful generals. No, this isn't about sex.
That's the giggle factor. What it is about is lying under oath, committing a felony and destroying people's careers and wasting millions of a poor city's money to cover his own personal mess up.
You cannot get around that. You cannot survive that, if the rule of law makes any sense. Bill Clinton was a jackass. He lied about having sex. But he didn't do anything truly criminal.
Kwame Kilpatrick did, if these text messages are accurate.
What's worst of all — what really makes you sick — is that Kilpatrick is not merely Bart Simpson trying to be a gangsta pimp.
That is, indeed, part of his personality. Yet he had another side, one that could lead and inspire and get deals done. Again, in his Friday column, another unlikely source, Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley, got it exactly right — though he was too timid.
"If this latest scandal distracts Kilpatrick from his work, efforts to attract new investment to Detroit, provide more education options and bring life back to the city's suffering neighborhoods will wither.
"There's also very real concern that the national conversation about Detroit will move away from the city's successes and back to the mayor's foibles," he added. Nolan is, naturally, smarter than that.
If it distracts him from his work? Kilpatrick can no longer function as a mayor needs to. If he chooses to stay on, he will spend every dreary moment consumed with his case.
What he should do, what he must do, is resign.
Thirty-five years ago, when Spiro T. Agnew was vice president of the United States, he was found to be accepting illegal payoff money stemming back to crooked shenanigans while he was governor of Maryland. The U.S. attorney general gave him a deal:
Resign, right now, without a fight, and we'll let you pay a fine and stay out of jail. Spiro Agnew bluffed and huffed — and resigned.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy should work out some kind of deal like that with Kwame Kilpatrick as soon as possible.
What matters is Detroit. The kids who don't have enough to eat and the women who have no cars and no good way to get what jobs exist. The neighborhoods without streetlights or enough police.
If Kilpatrick cared about the city, or those children, he would do the right thing and quit. City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. would become interim mayor, till an election is held.
Cockrel is honest, decent and intelligent. They say he's not dynamic, but neither was Gerald Ford, who was the right man when our nation went through something as traumatic as this.
There are plenty of talented people in this city. Some of them are even grown-ups, like Cockrel and the Rev. Nicholas Hood III and Shirley Stancato of New Detroit. Any of them could step up.
Sadly, I do not expect Kwame Kilpatrick to do the right thing. Incredibly, he appeared last week not even to realize he had to get rid of Christine Beatty. I expect him to fight tooth and nail to cling to office, to bellow and squall and try to play the race card.
He may even be able to frighten the politically correct media into soft-pedaling their calls for accountability. But everyone knows that if it has a sailor suit, a yellow beak, and appears in a Disney cartoon, you don't need further proof that it is Donald Duck.
"You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing," Oliver Cromwell once told some politicians who were screwing up.
"In the name of God, go." Hard to improve on that advice.
And Detroit doesn't have a prayer until he finally does.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org