Kwame Kilpatrick is still standing and has faith that he will outlast those who seek to destroy him.
In 2001, at the age of 31, he became the youngest mayor elected in the city of Detroit. Dubbed the “Hip Hop Mayor” by the media and critics, he began an ambitious urban economic renewal campaign in an attempt to revive a city once known for economic opportunities. In 2005, he won a second term and some even felt that he was on the brink of political greatness and possibly earning a new title, “Mayor for Life”, believing that he could be the mayor of Detroit until he decided he no longer wanted the job.
He made a lot of friends but also, a lot of enemies. After a text-messaging scandal, allegations of inappropriate behavior and legal troubles, he resigned from office in September of 2008 and ultimately ended up serving a brief prison sentence. After his release, he left Detroit and now resides in Southlake, Texas with his wife and sons.
Kwame Malik Kilpatrick has learned much, and while passing through Chicago recently, he sat down with The Final Call’s Assistant Editor Ashahed M. Muhammad, to tell his story. It was the first interview he has granted since leaving office.
Ashahed M. Muhammad (The Final Call:) Mr. Kilpatrick, thank you for sitting down with us for a few minutes. Of course today is November 4, marking one year since Barack Obama has been elected President. You were a very vocal supporter of Barack Obama’s candidacy, what are your thoughts of this first year he’s been in office?
Kwame Kilpatrick (KK:) Thanks for having me. This is the first time I’ve sat down and done an interview with anyone in more than a year. I appreciate you giving me a call and I appreciate sitting down with you.
There are two things when you talk about our President, one, the job of being president and I think that he is handling that in an amazingly well fashion, we have to remember that he is the President of the United States of America. He is not the NAACP leader, he is not the leader of a church, he is the President of the United States. There are global responsibilities that this Nation has that he has to be in charge of exercising. I believe that many people felt that he was going to be more like a mayor or a community leader. So the job of being president, understanding the particular policies that America has gotten itself into over the past 400 years. Understanding the policies that we have gotten ourselves into from a defense perspective, transportation perspective, trade perspective and foreign policy perspective over the last 8-years. How does he operate within that structure? How does he unwind some of the policies of the past, some of the economic decisions that we have made as a country?
I say we because we all live here. He now finds himself as being the chief implementer, the chief operator, the chief executive of America’s so-called power in the world and I think that he is handling that very well. I believe that when he walked into that office, the first thing was shock and awe. I think he found (out) a lot of things that he did not know (regarding) how bad the problems were, or what position America really (held) on certain issues and I believe he’s handled it. He comes out, he talks to the American people. He is being a stand-up president. He’s pushing policies that haven’t been pushed, like healthcare (and) he’s realistically discussing things.
There are some things–of course–that I disagree with, I think just like every American there are some things that I agree with. But I think on the job of being president, he is doing well. I think the other side of that is just being the leader–if you will–of the “free world.” And there is a lot that I believe that every President has to learn on that front. He is very young into his administration, he has only been there 10-months. I believe that he is learning a lot and over the course of the next 18-months, we are going to see how he implements, not just progressive public policies and initiatives but also how he leads with humanity. How he leads the free world.
How he makes decisions and how he changes the personality of the United States of America. The personality was definitely changed in the previous 8-years. How does he change the personality, how do you change how people look at us and watch us and how we lead and how we make decisions? I believe that is yet to come. I believe the job of president is good but we will see more from our president in the next 18-months as he gets more comfortable in the position.
FCN: What are your views on some of the vicious rhetoric that you have, heard some of the signs, the mocking of President Obama, the attacks on his character, the so-called “Birther Movement” challenging his American authenticity? Did that surprise you at all being a former elected official to see–well, it probably didn’t surprise you because of what you went through but we’ll get to that. What are your thoughts on the intensity of the feelings of those who didn’t support him and have been working against him and speaking out against him?
KK: It didn’t surprise me at all Ashahed. This is the United States of America and unfortunately, race still matters to a lot of people. The evil head of racism doesn’t hide, it sticks its head up. And as a matter of fact since Barack Obama has been president it is more overt–I believe–than it’s been since the 1940’s and 50’s and so I am not surprised by it. I think it’s an excellent teaching tool, particular for my sons and our people to understand that we still have to build within our community. We still have to work with one another. We still have to connect even with people outside of this country and build collaborations and organizations that help us to prosper, spiritually, economically, emotionally because you are not going to just find that old American baseball and apple pie United States spirit right here in America. You are going to see division. I think he has done a good job of managing it as the President.
I think a lot of people even in our own community unjustly criticize him and unfairly criticize him because they picture how they would react, but they are operating on a different level than the President of the United States. I think he’s handled it well. I think he’s handled some of the issues that he has to handle well. He can not allow himself to be pushed into any corner, a conservative corner, a liberal corner, a Black corner, a White corner. In order for him to actually have credibility to lead on issues that really matter to all of us, he has to make sure that he stands strong on the positions of independence. So he can’t allow the press, the media, the rhetoric, the distractions to deter him from his path and I think he has done a good job. I am not surprised at all that the American racists have stood up and started to attack this first Black President.
FCN: In 2001 it made national news when you were elected the youngest mayor ever of the city of Detroit, a place with a long historical political legacy. Detroit, a city with an extensive cultural history is very important to Black people. Describe the feeling when you became the mayor.
KK: My dream in growing up in the city of Detroit was to be Mayor. At the family picnics from the time I was 9-years-old that’s what I told people I was going to be. The mayor of the city of Detroit. (Former mayor) Coleman Young was my hero. I had a chance to meet him when I was 10-years old. I won a contest and the winner of the contest got to meet the Mayor. It was about a three minute meeting, I thought it was three hours. So from that perspective, that’s all I ever wanted to be. I didn’t want to be president; I didn’t want to be governor; I didn’t want to be a congress person. I just wanted to be mayor of the city of Detroit.
I lived there my entire life. I loved the city, so the feeling in 2001 first was shock, then (I was) nervous, then scared but then it’s–I really wasn’t happy and ecstatic like I thought I (would be). I was immediately hit with the enormity of the responsibility and the fact that most people in that town–particularly those that voted for me were placing their hopes and dreams in me. That is a big, big stressful place to be. So you are happy, but at the same time you are saying “Okay, I asked for this, let me try to figure out how to do it.” That is a big responsibility and you are fighting uphill in a city like Detroit every single day. It’s a tough town to work in.
FCN: Now after the first term, it was a hard fought battle for the second. During your re-election campaign, a lot of support came in to assist, you worked very diligently nonstop around the clock along with your campaign team. After the second victory you received more threats, more attacks and it wasn’t just limited to people who disagreed with you politically, it extended beyond that. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
KK: One of the things that I see with President (Obama) is, a lot of the attacks are masked in attacks about policy, but they really don’t like him. They are really attacks on him, who he is as a person, how he looks. I live in Texas now and I was listening to a group of people talking in a locker room after playing golf one day. It was a group of White men and they just said that they don’t like him “he’s too arrogant, I can’t stand him.” And I used to hear those comments every single day, “I don’t like him he’s arrogant.” There were never a lot of attacks on my work. We were building more parks than were ever built in the city, building more recreation centers, fixing more streets.
We had national events, the Super Bowl, the (Major League Baseball) All-Star game, Final Four. We built seven hotels. The city hadn’t built a hotel in 20 or more years. We built five hotels in the first term and two more after that. The Riverfront which has been a dream in the city for 30-years; we did it in four. So it was never really an attack on my work it was who I was. “We don’t like him. We don’t like the way he dresses, we don’t like the way he looks, he’s arrogant.” And so what that brought and bred was a theater of hatred. Michigan is very racially separated and the city of Detroit itself is 84 percent African-American and the surrounding suburbs are 86 percent White. There were race riots in the 1940’s, race riots in the 1960’s and Detroit never really healed from that, and so you stoke that and you start getting the Michigan Militias and all those things different things regarding the race problems.
And so yes, we started receiving threats; you know, “we are going to kill your wife, we are going to kill your kids.” Getting phone calls from phone booths a mile from my house. And they use of course, I’m not using the terms that they used but you can imagine. So you start getting those and during the election, the election was hard fought not because of the work, but people not liking me or really proffering this position that “this guy is a bad guy you shouldn’t like him” and that is what we had to fight every single day. It got a little hairy but I was never fearful or scared of that at all. I knew God had me and my wife and children knew it as well so we just marched.
FCN: During your time as mayor of Detroit, you mentioned some of the accomplishments such as the building of the hotels, improving the image of Detroit with the Super Bowl, with the Final Four; what accomplishments are you most proud of?
KK: I think that some of those things are the exterior type of things that mayors do. The development success, the operational success in city government and city services, but I really believe that the most successful thing that we did as an administration is also why Detroit has had the biggest fall, is that we restored hope in the city of Detroit. That we could be something better than this degraded, deteriorating city. That we could have new stuff, new opportunities, new businesses, new events and that we could build new housing. People started to believe and more than anything exterior, I think the internal spirit of the city of Detroit started to wake up.
That hope, that drive that we could play big, that we could be big time again. More than anything else while the world was using Detroit as the butt of their jokes, we said that we would reintroduce Detroit to the world. And I think that was more important than any of the parks and the streets and the recreational centers and the buildings and the companies. I mean, those things are important because they were elements that added to the hope, but I believe the same reason that I say it was successful is the same reason I feel so guilty about the loss of hope right now and what the city is going through now.
FCN: As it relates to the media in Detroit, I won’t mention any in particular but I’m sure that you know what I’m talking about. It seems like even to this day every turn you make, every move you make, you are presented in a certain manner beyond just the natural standard of accountability and responsibility of an elected official. While you were the mayor was this true? And after being the mayor, why do you think that they have continued this seemingly, almost like a vendetta against you, the desire to paint you in a certain way to humiliate you to cause you as many problems or inconveniences as possible getting into your private finances, where you are going and what you are doing and where you are staying and things of that nature?
KK: Yes, it’s no question about it. I don’t think there has been any mayor in America scrutinized that way. I don’t think there has been any mayor as a matter of fact, Coleman Young I think received an incredible amount of scrutiny and he was kind of the poster child for that in Detroit. He was the first Black mayor who really expressed his manhood in a different way than had been seen from African-American man that was projected across the country. But I don’t think there has been any mayor scrutinized like I was in that time. Everyday, day-in and day-out it was tough to do the job under that kind of scrutiny. But then afterwards there has definitely been a campaign. There was a campaign–a very aggressive overt campaign. They didn’t even hide it.
They were against me and now it has turned into something else. It’s like, “he didn’t die, he wasn’t destroyed. We did everything we possibly could and he is still standing, he’s still married, he’s still happy, he’s still blessed” and I think that has been a real issue for a lot of people. In Detroit because of that loss of hope I talked about, the press runs the town. They are leaders of the town. The leadership of the community doesn’t make a move if they think the press won’t like it. So the commentators now are running the town. Now they even…I’m not the mayor, I’ve been gone for a year and they come to Texas filmed my house! They legally subpoena my private banking records (and) that of my wife’s. They filmed my kid’s school, they filmed them at their football games so everybody could know. They put my address where I lived in the paper. They have done some tremendous things.
They have conspired, they have consorted with people–and it is well known–to gain information that they didn’t have access to. It’s really been an incredible ride. I really have been praying about what this is all about. But that aggressive campaign against me has also made me better, it has made me more enlightened, it’s made me stronger. It has also strengthened my relationship with my wife, my children, and they are stronger because of it. So I can’t say it’s been all bad. I know in the Christian church the old ladies use to say “what the devil meant for bad God meant for good.” So some of the things that I think they went out and tried to be detrimental to my life saved me in a lot of ways. So yes, there has been an aggressive evil spirit of campaign but we are still standing.
FCN: I’m glad you mentioned your family. Clearly, they have stood by you and your wife has demonstrated tremendous strength as well as your children with you being in such a public spot. As it relates to Ms. Christine Beatty, the sister who was in the news related to her relationship with you, do you have contact with her, do you all talk?
KK: I’ll simply say, I have talked to her since all of this stuff has happened. I try to make sure that she understands that I still care about her very deeply and I simply back up and say first that, a lot of times when women get caught in a situation like that, they are perceived as a wh— and sorry and I just think that is so unfair. It takes two to tango they say but I think even other than that she is a very good person. She is incredibly brilliant, a 4.0 student, masters (degree) and we made some bad decisions and we are living with the consequences of those decisions. I respect her tremendously and love her and wish her the best.
That has been an incredible situation, somebody has been in your life since ninth grade, this is my friend, this wasn’t a person that just showed up. Ninth grade and now out of your life and having her own and you have to really figure out how to move forward with your wife and children. So I wish her the best. I have tried to keep tabs and make sure that she is doing all right. But as far as the kind of interaction we had, we will never really have again.
FCN: On a personal level, after all of this, looking back, what did you learn?
KK: I learned several things. One is that sometimes your gift takes you to a place that your character is not prepared to handle. I can be the mayor; I can do it right now. I can go in there right now and put things together. I was truly anointed for that position and I wasn’t mature enough in my spirit, in my manhood to handle that responsibility at the time it was given to me. The significant character flaw that I had, it rose up and bit me. I learned that you can go after things before you are ready and so if you are going after it, you need to make sure that your spirit is ready. I learned also how to surrender to His will and not mine.
Sometimes when you are going through something–and I am a guy who runs campaigns–I can make this happen. There has never been a campaign where I was picked to win. Neither in the mayoral election, Statehouse election, Speaker of the House election, I was never picked to win. I was always coming from behind. I won every one of them. Nobody was going to out work me. We were going to put together an organization and a plan and when you are going through something like that nothing happens without Allah’s permission. So a lot of the times you just have to surrender to his will and learning how to surrender was a major thing for me, getting me out of the way, surrendering to the will of God. I talked and spoke with Minister Farrakhan and the Minister told me–and this was before jail and anything else–he said “you have to surrender, brother, Allah may even allow you to go to jail.”
He saw something that I didn’t; and I tell you that time was character development, character building, mixed feelings and controversy, understanding the jinn, understanding who I am. A lot of reading and a lot of teaching and a lot of learning. No phone going off, nobody to call, so it was a period of time, short enough where I didn’t go crazy but long enough where I got the lesson that I needed to learn. You can’t hide and you can’t cheat and all those things. Those are elements that I think are bigger issues of character, the big issue of honesty of being a man and what a man is, of standing but also surrendering and the power that gives you when you do that.
FCN: You mentioned your relationship with the Minister. What would you say is the most important thing about having a relationship with a spiritual advisor like Minister Farrakhan? Can you talk to us a little bit about the importance of that relationship throughout the good times and the bad times so to speak–and having his guidance during the time of trouble?
KK: I heard somebody say that you can’t judge a tree by the bark it wears but by the fruit it bears. It goes without saying about the incredible leadership that he has given to the Nation and to our community and to humanity. So, I don’t want to talk about that, I could talk about that for a half hour but bringing it down on a very practical natural level. I don’t know if there is a person walking around today that is more misunderstood, that has endured more hatred, that has endured more enemies, that has endured more threats to his life and that whose teachings and whose gift has been misconstrued, degraded and deformed by those who don’t know him, haven’t heard and haven’t listened.
So to talk to somebody like that you automatically walk in with this brother who is (so) beautiful and understanding that it’s nothing that you can tell him that he hasn’t heard. So you go in the room shutting up. It’s not a lot of people that you kind of just say ‘Okay, I’m just going to hear this out.’ So that relationship and I was telling my Pastor…the kind of advice and I think there is some privacy there but the type of advice, the type of conversation, the type of knowledge and wisdom that he imparted to me is not just priceless but it was life changing. I appreciate him deeply and thank him immensely for the role that he played in my life, not just directly, Minister Rasul Muhammad, sending him to be there, Brother Victor Muhammad, you know I don’t think there would be a Victor Muhammad without a Minister Farrakhan, maybe not an Ashahed.
I think just the fruit of this brother also are people who wrapped their arms around me, who aided my family in a time when they really needed it. In the midst of death threats they stood with my wife and children and walked them out and made sure (they were protected) when I was locked away and so, I don’t think I have the words to articulate how thankful I am to the Minister (and) also the profound effect and the impact that he has had on my life.
FCN: So what does the future hold for Brother Kwame Kilpatrick? Is there a return to politics possibly back to Detroit, perhaps in Texas?
KK: I don’t know. I really believe that this is a period of time where I am trying to commune, study and figure that out. What I learned in politics (is that) it’s a very enslaving place to be. It’s hard to be free in politics and if the search for your spirit is to be free, it’s hard. We do need brothers and sisters to go into elected offices and political offices and do that, but my spirit is telling me something different. Because you are a Democrat or Republican you have to do this but you can’t do that and so it’s somewhat limiting in what you can actually do and I’ve done that.
I’ve been in the Statehouse; I’ve been mayor so I believe there is something else for me. I don’t know what that is yet, but I definitely have a testimony now brother! As far as talking to young couples, talking to brothers who are strong, they have it going on, they know exactly what they want to do, how they want to do it but they don’t have any God in their life. They don’t really move by a spirit. They are not really connected to the community. There is a testimony in here somewhere that I think I can share but I don’t know.
At this particular time I have no plans to be in elected office. Absolutely not. And I don’t know if I will go back to Detroit. My kids want to go back to Detroit everyday, that’s their home. They want to be there. But Detroit is going through something that I don’t want to be a part of. I think what is happening there now, I believe I was extracted from. What is happening in Detroit is not good so I don’t even want to be a part of that, but there is something on the other side that I may want to be a part of so I don’t know yet.
FCN: Thank you.