Reports that the FBI is preparing to file new corruption charges against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his father shocked the Michigan political establishment over the weekend and may prove damaging to Democratic candidates facing a hostile electoral climate this fall.
Both Detroit newspapers reported Sunday that the feds have evidence the Kilpatricks took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Karl Kado, a little-known city contractor. Kilpatrick resigned from office and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges on Sept. 4, 2008, following an investigation that showed he used city resources to cover up a romantic affair with his chief of staff Christine Beatty. He served 99 days in jail and was ordered to pay restitution of $1 million to the city.
That scandal looms large over Michigan politics and observers say the Kilpatrick name has become toxic with voters, who may look to punish the Democratic party this fall. The most obvious impact will be on the former mayor’s mother, Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, who is facing an uphill battle to defend her seat in the 13th District. But the scandal’s impact may also extend to Lansing, where at least two of the leading candidates for governor will have to face questions about their connections to the Kilpatrick regime.
The latest revelations came when Kado, who has been cooperating with the FBI for almost five years, told the feds he paid $100,000 in cash directly to the then-mayor in 2002. He also claims to have paid hundreds of thousands more to Bernard Kilpatrick, the mayor’s father. Kado is awaiting sentencing for paying bribes to protect multi-million dollar contracts connected to the city’s Cobo Center, which is home of the North American International Auto Show.
“No one’s surprised, it’s sort of par for the course,” said Dennis Darnoi, a political operative in Oakland County who runs Densar Consulting. Darnoi said a number of Oakland County businessmen interested in doing business with the city said they were given Bernard Kilpatrick’s number and told to call it to set up a meeting with the mayor. Bernie Kilpatrick would then allegedly request $10,000 to guarantee a meeting with City Hall. “It was just kind of how business was done,” Darnoi said.
Nine people have already plead guilty in connection to the long-running federal investigation of the city government and a 10th, political consultant Sam Riddle, recently saw his case end in a mistrial when the lone black jury member refused to discuss the particulars of the case with her fellow jurors. The Detroit Free Press reported Sunday that the FBI is considering bringing racketeering charges against the Kilpatricks and their accomplices.
Political analyst and syndicated columnist Susan Demas said the renewed headlines could help State Senator Hansen Clarke topple Cheeks Kilpatrick, who is divorced from Bernie Kilpatrick, in the primary. While the congresswoman has not been mentioned in connection to the scandal, her name and support of her son may prove costly at the ballot box. Demas pointed out that Cheeks Kilpatrick eked out a close victory in a three-way race in 2008, ultimately saved by a late endorsement from Nancy Pelosi.
Clarke first turned heads by challenging Kwame Kilpatrick in the mayoral primary in 2005, winning praise for his debate performances but ultimately placing fourth. “He’s certainly a very intelligent person and has been involved in Detroit for a while,” Demas said. “He would be an interesting alternative to Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, who is very flamboyant with a larger-than-life persona. Hansen is much more cerebral and laid-back.”
Cheeks Kilpatrick “is going to have a very difficult race,” Darnoi said. “It’s not as if she’s running against someone who you can’t imagine as a member of Congress. Lots of people would look at this as a step up.”
Kilpatrick is not without support however, including strong financial backers like Detroit businessman Matty Moroun and Compuware chief executive Peter Karmanos. Her office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
The other major impact will be on the governor’s race, where former Kilpatrick associations may prove poisonous to potential candidates. “I can’t say how much of an impact, but I certainly think Kwame is going to be factor in this election,” Demas said.
Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Cox’s name has long been associated with a rumored cover-up of a party at the mayor’s official residence in 2002, where the mayor’s wife allegedly assaulted one of the strippers hired to perform.
Cox and Kilpatrick have consistently denied that such an event took place, but sources within the Detroit police department have alleged Cox ended the investigation prematurely. Demas said many state Republican officials are wary of supporting Cox, lest he win the nomination and subsequently be derailed by further revelations.
Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder, also running for the GOP nomination, made a point of showing Cox’s face along with Kilpatrick’s during his Super Bowl advertisement decrying Michigan’s career politicians. Darnoi said the other Republicans running against Cox have also uncovered numerous contacts between Cox and Kilpatrick’s office, which he said “certainly begs a lot of question that the attorney general doesn’t want to be dealing with. It will be kind of sticky for him.”
On the Democratic side, candidates employing former Kwame Kilpatrick backers open themselves up to questions regarding their connections to the unseemly side of Mitten state politics. Jamaine Dickens served as Mayor Kilpatrick’s press secretary until 2005 and is now a senior adviser to Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s campaign for governor. Dickens, who also worked for the campaigns of Governor Granholm, President Obama and John Kerry, said he has no opinion on Kilpatrick’s situation and considers Bernero the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
“There is no connection,” he said, adding that he stopped working for Kwame Kilpatrick in 2005.
Sources also told The Daily Caller that former Kwame aide Mike Tardif has joined the Bernero campaign, but Jenkins denied that report and the campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Tardif’s name was mentioned in the reports of another Detroit scandal connected to a city sludge-hauling contract. That case eventually led to City Council member Monica Conyers, wife of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, pleading guilty to accepting $6,000 in bribes last year.