Friday, March 28, 2008

Can Granholm pass the Kwame test?

“I’m a mother. I’m used to cleaning up other people’s messes.”

That’s long been Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s disarming reply to Michigan’s record unemployment, billion-dollar budget deficits and loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs.

Of course it’s not her fault (picture a certain rotund Republican governor who preceded her) but by golly, Granholm is going mop up the muck and set the Mitten State on a path anew.

Well, governor, have we got a mess for you.

The stench left by Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s 12 indictments (eight of them felonies) this week for perjury, obstruction of justice and conspiracy has engulfed the state.

This isn’t a sex scandal. I know, those racy text messages of Kwame and his paramour/former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty (“And did you miss me, sexually?”) are on permanent loop on national TV. The Eliot Spitzer hooker extravaganza is sooo old, since the New York gov actually had the gumption to resign, so Kwame’s office boot-knocking is getting its due.

Whatever. What this is really about is Detroit and the state of Michigan.

It’s about hizzoner’s spending spree of more than $9 million of the city’s money to cover up firing police officers (the less titillating, but far more damning of the 14,000 text messages). Police had allegedly uncovered abuses in Kwame’s posse/security detail (all former altar boys, natch) and a certain wild party at the Manoogian Mansion that Attorney General Mike Cox dubbed an “urban legend.”

Cox’s investigation was less than thorough, as documents from the Michigan State Police now show, so expect more revelations on that front. And perhaps we’ll all find out why Coxie was so chummy with Kwame and if it has anything to do with the AG’s burning desire to live in the governor’s mansion in 2010.

As always in politics, it’s the cover-up that did Kilpatrick in. He lied about his affair under oath, as well as planning to sack the cops. The proof is there in black and white.

The outrage is that a city as economically bludgeoned as Detroit is being bilked by a corrupt mayor who feels no shame in treating his hometown like a brothel and making residents pick up the tab.

Motown has never recovered from the flight of the industrial base or the riots of 1967 – blocks of buildings resembling bombed-out Baghdad testify to that. Infant mortality and literacy rates are on par with third-world countries.

It is a travesty for Detroit, once a beacon of hope on the Underground Railroad and the source of inspiration for Henry Ford, to have become America’s living symbol of urban decay.

Kilpatrick tried to turn that image around and masterfully wooed the business community. But now we’re told that those efforts somehow should absolve him of essentially pilfering city coffers (and of his felonies) and keep him on the job.

Since he has no defense, he’s adopted the last refuge of scoundrels: Lash out at the media for reporting his misdeeds and make this about race (“I’ve been called (the n-word) more than anytime in my entire life.”)

This is sad and shameful and we all pay the price. Because whether you live in Benzie or Battle Creek, we’re all Detroiters, baby. What’s the first thing entrepreneurs think about Michigan nowadays? Kwame is the 300-pound, diamond-studded elephant in the room.

You can live in denial that our crumbling core city doesn’t affect you - but the rest of the world knows otherwise.

So should Kwame Kilpatrick stay or should he go? How is this even a question?

The biggest favor Kilpatrick could do for the city and state he claims to love is walk away. We’re struggling enough with 7.2 percent unemployment and record foreclosures, thank you very much.

But that ain’t gonna happen. So it’s up to Granholm to whip out the industrial Hoover and vacuum up the manure.

The governor does have the power to oust the frat-boy mayor, plain and simple. She denies that, but her narrow reading of the Michigan Constitution smacks of someone who skirts politically thorny decisions at all costs.

Anyone paying attention to six years of budget crises knows that. It’s clear to anyone who’s heard Granholm’s soaring rhetoric about education and watched her gut college funding up until this year.

Jenny doesn’t like to pull the trigger.

Look, this isn’t easy. Kwame’s a fallen star in her own party from the fiercest Democratic stronghold in the state (and one of the biggest in the country). But it would show tremendous leadership.

And it’s the right thing to do. It is crucial for Michigan - we all need to move on from the mayor’s wanton criminality and national humiliation.

This is a key test for Granholm and Democrats. Stop whining that you’re cleaning up John Engler’s mess and wipe out one of your own.

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