Detroiters 'Angry, Heartbroken' Over Mayor's Woes

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's latest legal woes are stirring deep emotions among the city's residents. Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press explains how Detroiters are reacting to the developments and the state of leadership in the city.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We wanted to get more reactions to the latest developments. So, we've called on Rochelle Riley, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Welcome.

Ms. ROCHELLE RILEY (Columnist, Detroit Free Press): Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you for talking to us.

Ms. RILEY: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Any sense of how the city is reacting to this? We were looking at the newspapers, your newspaper's message board. To put it mildly, there doesn't seem to be a lot of sympathy or support left for the mayor. But it's hard to tell whether that represents a consensus or a vocal minority. What do you think?

Ms. RILEY: There's a vocal minority that still supports the mayor because they believe, as he does, that things like lying and breaking rules can be excused and that consequences are not for everything. But for a great majority of people in Detroit and in southeastern Michigan, they are at the point where they feel enough is enough.

MARTIN: Do you think most people believe that the business of the city is in fact now being conducted, I mean, I just want to read a statement that the mayor's office released. It said that trash will continue to be collected, recreation centers will remain open, grass will be cut, fires will be extinguished. Once again, residents can be assured government will continue to operate as usual. Do you think that that's true?

Ms. RILEY: Well, if government operated that usual in the first place, people would not be so upset. But some of those things aren't happening and you need to have full focus to be able to run a city that's in transition and has so many parts of it that are in dire straits. So, it is not possible to be a defendant and be the mayor of some place like Detroit which was listed as a dying city in a major magazine just this week. It takes a great deal of thought and consideration. And when you have to be in court several times a week and you are limited in how you can move around, it makes it harder.

MARTIN: Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm had set a date to begin hearings on whether Mayor Kilpatrick should be removed from office. But it's my understanding that he can't be removed unless he's convicted. Is that also your understanding?

Ms. RILEY: Oh, no, no. That's not true. The statute - well, actually there are two things that she has to use to guide her, the city charter allows for the removal of the mayor by two processes, either forfeiture which requires hearings and a very long time or asking the governor to do it. So, her hearing has to do with the city council request to remove the governor, and he can be removed for official misconduct, public drunkenness, and several other things before you get to conviction of a felony. So, what people are hoping is that she will stop just dealing with the criminal charges and deal with the impact that he's having on the city and if being charged with crimes is in itself enough misconduct to cause her to act.

MARTIN: It's also my understanding that City Council President Ken Cockrel, Jr. would succeed Mayor Kilpatrick if he resigns or if he's forced from office. What are people feeling about that possibility?

Ms. RILEY: Well, there would have to be a special election and someone has to run the city up until then. And right now, it's a friend of the mayor's who became the deputy mayor two weeks ago and who, quite frankly, people aren't sure has the werewithal to actually be the mayor of the 11th largest city in the country. So, there's a great deal of distrust, a great deal of concern, a great deal of uncertainty.

MARTIN: How are you gauging this? I mean, is it - when you write about this, what do people say to you? What mood do you have as you sort of go about the city and talk to people?

Ms. RILEY: Well, the biggest thing that I'm hearing is this whole sense of the mayor being mistreated and the sense that he's being overwhelmed by circumstances. For instance, his attorney, Jim Thomas was just on. And he began his comments when you asked about why the mayor couldn't make a simple phone call to the judge to get permission to go out of town. And he said, well, what happened was, which is the way my brother used to start conversations when you knew you were going to get a fish tail.

The mayor has six lawyers, several secretaries, two press secretaries, and a dozen person security detail, all of whom could have told him, mister mayor, don't go over the bridge or through the tunnel without calling the judge. So the idea that, oh, I forgot. And of course, we also reported in our editions that the Windsor newspapers talked with attorneys for the city and they said, they didn't call the mayor. That the mayor called them. So, there are lots of things that people are hearing like that and not trusting what the mayor says and not having sympathy for what he's trying to do.

MARTIN: Speaking of sympathy, you wrote an interesting column about the person who actually had to take the mayor into custody. He seemed to have some sympathy for the mayor's situation. Will you talk a little bit more about that?

Ms. RILEY: You know, this is amazing. Sheriff's corporal. Nice guy who, you know, sort of got the call and was handed the assignment and it's the luck of the draw that he had to go over and pick up a prisoner and it was this mayor, and while he's not necessarily an announced fan of the mayor, he thought there was nothing worse for him as a father of three and, you know, native Detroiter to have to go and handcuff the mayor and take him to the jail and he said he was doing exactly what he was supposed to do as the judge did who jailed the mayor. But he felt just a great sense of sadness to watch, you know, the guy who's supposed to leading his city, standing there being fingerprinted.

MARTIN: Do you think that's a widespread feeling? A sense of, this is just depressing? Or is there more anger, you think? Do you think he's - I guess I want to mean, you think that his reaction is a common one or do you think that it's unusual, more people angry? Because I'm seeing a lot of anger but I - but, you know, again I don't know whether how widespread that is.

Ms. RILEY: It's not unusual. There are a lot of people who are just heartbroken in the sense of doom and sadness about this has become oppressive as well as depressive. But overall, there are a lot of people who, unfortunately are celebrating because they've been through so much over the past seven months and have wanted the mayor to put an end to this sooner. So there's more anger that it just continues and that he continues.

MARTIN: And also, I wanted to mention that Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, a congresswoman who represents the Detroit area barely squeaked by in a primary. Very unusual for an incumbent member of Congress particularly one who is as high profile as she is who is also the chairwoman currently in the Congressional Black Caucus to have such a hard flat race. Do you think that her son's difficulties are in part contributing to her own political challenges right now?

Ms. RILEY: Now that is absolutely true. In her previous five elections, her opponents didn't come within 70 percentage points and this was a 39, 38 percent race. And a lot people said, you know, we're tired of the name Kilpatrick. We want all of them gone and did not look at anything that she was, you know, touting during the weeks leading up to the election as accomplishments on behalf of Detroit. There were other people who said she's just a mother who loves her son. I'm going to put him over to the side because he's a grown up. So, I think that's how she squeaked by.

MARTIN: Rochelle Riley is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She joined us from the studios at the University of Michigan. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. RILEY: Thank you. Always.

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