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Detroit mayor resigns, sentenced to 4 months in jail

September 4, 2008

Detroit – Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to felony charges Thursday in a sex scandal, forcing him out of office after months of defiantly holding onto his job leading the nation’s 11th-largest city. He was ordered to serve four months in jail and fined $1 million.

Kilpatrick also read a statement in court and admitted his guilt, saying “I lied under oath … I did so with an intent to mislead the court and jury and to impede and obstruct the fair administration of justice.”

The plea deal brings to an end a seven-months-long ordeal that has been a distraction for one of the nation’s most troubled cities, which suffers from some of the highest home foreclosure and unemployment rates in the country, and has struggled for decades against population loss, high crime and racial tension.

Michael Craw, an assistant professor in James Madison College, said the ordeal has only worsened Detroit’s plight by deterring potential home buyers and business investors.

“He has probably set Detroit back, economically, a decade or so,” Craw said. “The city was not in good shape to begin with and for this kind of uncertainty to be out there about the mayor just looks really badly.”

The Detroit city charter automatically expels any mayor guilty of a felony.

A one-sentence letter signed by Kilpatrick and filed with the court states his resignation will take effect Sept. 18.

City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. will succeed Kilpatrick as mayor until a special election is held.

As part of Thursday’s deal, the 38-year-old Democrat is to serve four months in jail and five years of probation. He also would pay the $1 million in restitution during the five-year probationary period, cannot run for any elected office for five years and loses his law license.

Craw said the restitution does not come close to the amount of money Detroit lost because of Kilpatrick’s case, but the jail time is fitting.

“Four months in jail is going to be, at the very least, embarrassing for him,” Craw said. “His political career is probably over.”

But Kilpatrick seemed to think otherwise.

“I want to tell you, Detroit, that you just set me up for a comeback,” he said during a televised address Thursday night.

During a separate hearing moments after Wayne County Circuit Court Judge David Groner accepted the mayor’s plea, Kilpatrick offered a no contest plea in an assault case.

The judge also accepted that plea, which called for Kilpatrick to serve a four-month jail sentence that would run at the same time. Kilpatrick had faced 10 felony counts in the two separate criminal cases.

Groner asked Kilpatrick if he understood he was giving up the right to be innocent until proven guilty.

“I gave that up a long time ago,” Kilpatrick replied.

The married mayor and former top aide Christine Beatty were charged in March with perjury, misconduct and obstruction of justice. They’re accused of lying under oath about an affair and their roles in the firing of a deputy police chief.

Beatty did not plead guilty and next will appear in court Sept. 11. Groner said a plea deal in Beatty’s case appeared likely.

The mayor will be sentenced Oct. 28. He will report to jail that day, said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

“We did not give an inch and these conditions were basically to a letter of what we wanted all along,” she said.

Worthy said she was glad Kilpatrick resigned but that was never a “bargaining chip” for her. She said paying restitution and serving jail time were far more important.

Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm described the events of the day as “a sad but historic story” that’s coming to an end.

“A public office is entrusted to the person who holds that office but belongs to the people who are served by that office,” she said.

She also suspended a hearing she started Wednesday to determine whether he should be removed from office for misconduct. The proceedings were rendered moot.

Until now, Kilpatrick refused to resign.

Craw said he expects to see calls to reform the city’s charter in the wake of the scandal.

“(A possible reform) will change the working of the government, at the very least, looking at changing the relationship between the city council and the mayor’s office,” he said.

Craw said the city’s poor governmental organization kept the city council from monitoring the mayor’s activities adequately.

Detroit police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings, who was appointed by Kilpatrick, announced her retirement Thursday, effective immediately.

Kilpatrick leaves a mixed legacy. He persuaded big business to invest in a city staggering from the auto industry’s woes and a decades-long exodus of people, but faced repeated scandal.

“The Kilpatrick administration will be working with you and for you longer than I am physically in place,” he said.

“I am proud of all that we have been able to accomplish … Even in the midst of all of this the grass got cut, the trees got trimmed, the streets got fixed.”

Former Deputy police Chief Gary Brown filed a lawsuit in 2003, claiming he was fired for looking into the alleged party and investigating the actions of the mayor’s bodyguards.

During the 2007 trial, Kilpatrick and Beatty sat in the witness chair and denied having a romantic relationship in 2002 and 2003. In January: The Detroit Free Press published sexually explicit text messages from Beatty’s city-issued pager. He and Beatty were charged with perjury and other felonies.

Although he denied having caused any additional turmoil in the city, Kilpatrick admitted he made mistakes and told citizens to work toward “healing the city.”

“Let us move forward together the way that we began this journey, as a united Detroit,” he said. “I’ll turn my attention to the healing that I need to do in my family and we can turn our attention to the healing that we need to do in our city.”

_Staff writer Kelly House contributed to this report. _

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