Before I begin, I should introduce our cast of characters, because somehow I feel it's funnier if you can picture them all in your head.
This is Kwame Kilpatrick. He's the mayor of Detroit and has pretty much constantly been in trouble for something or other the entire time I've lived here.
This is his wife, Carlita. She was at the center of the latest scandal, although everyone swears
that she knew nothing about it.
This is Christine Beatty. She's his chief of staff, a title that works on a couple levels once you realize they're also having an affair.
Ella Bully-Cummings. Detroit's police chief, and the proud owner of a name that always makes me laugh.
Howard Hughey (left). He's the mayor's press secretary. Although you have to wonder about a boy who's a secretary... if you know what I'm saying.
Steve Wilson. He's an investigative reporter at a Detroit TV station, who has demonstrated a consistent knack for getting people to attack him on camera, making for truly spectacular television. He also finds stuff out.
Our story begins back in December, when according to sources, the mayor apparently had the cash-strapped city lease a new Lincoln Navigator to ferry his wife around in. Someone from the mayor's office referred to it as "Carlita's Christmas present," although it's also been referred to in the same breath as the huge ass ring that Kobe Bryant gave his wife after diddling the concierge in Colorado.
This was no ordinary SUV, however, as witnessed by its price tag. The city paid $24,995 for a one-year lease. This is about $19,000 more than a normal person would pay for one year of the same vehicle, and in an astounding coincidence, is also $5 less than the threshhold for which Detroit's city council needs to approve purchases. (cough)kickbacks(cough)
This story broke a couple weeks ago, exactly one day after the mayor himself went on TV to announce that the city would have to cut between 600-1000 jobs because of budget problems. Needless to say, many people were not happy that they would be out of work while the mayor's family was spending the city's money like water.
The city responded exactly as they should not have. "What SUV?" "I haven't seen any SUV?"
TV reporters found the car.
"Oh, that SUV. It was for the police chief." Of course, no one actually told the police chief, so this explanation fell apart quickly.
"It was for undercover drug operations." This also fell apart, when people pointed out that there were police lights on it, and the car was registered to the city of Detroit.
Then, there was silence. No explanation, just "it's not for Carlita."
The mayor flew to Washington, DC for a conference. There, Wilson, the reporter pictured above, asked the mayor to explain. The mayor repeated eight times, "we can talk live any time you want" (i.e. on live TV, so it can't be edited), then had his bodyguard slam Wilson into a wall. This, naturally, was shown 12 times an hour, around the clock on TV. It also followed an incident where one of Kilpatrick's mother's bodyguards (she's a congresswoman) shoved Wilson out of the way.
As required by law, the city turned over the documents related to the lease of the SUV, except for one. This was the order form where someone actually signed for the vehicle. Since no one was admitting that they actually ordered the vehicle at this ludicrously inflated price, this was kind of an important piece of the story. But the city claimed that it was lost.
A TV station showed video of actually going down to the purchasing department, asking for this document (a month ago), and the mayor's press secretary, Howard Hughey, walking out with it, saying "I'll be right back." He never returned, and the document vanished.
Just yesterday, the mayor and police chief held a press conference to explain it all.
- No one lied, it was just a series of communication breakdowns.
- The mayor saw the price of the car shortly after the lease, decided it was too expensive, and told the police chief (who now says she
ordered it) to take it back. But he forgot about that conversation when reporters asked him about the SUV. That's why he said he didn't know anything about an SUV. He forgot.
- The SUV was
leased for the purpose that reporters said it was (driving the mayor's wife around), but after the mayor said he didn't want it, it was reassigned to the undercover drug unit. This was all documented with papers saying that it was true, dated after the investigations were well underway. But it wasn't motivated by the investigations. The police chief just didn't get around to doing it for almost a month. But the decisions were made earlier. Just trust us on that.
- Reporters were to blame for the physical confrontations, because the mayor felt threatened because they were too close to him, and may have bumped him with a microphone.
- The police chief made a point of handing out packets of documents detailing all the specifics on the lease, including the page that was supposedly lost. They must have found it that morning. This packet, the chief said, showed that the city had nothing to hide. They even helpfully blacked out the names of the people who approved the lease because "they didn't want TV reporters bothering them." But they have nothing to hide.
What's the moral of the story? Detroit's messed up. But you probably knew that already.