At one point Detroit was one of the most vibrant and wealthy cities in the entire United States. During the 1950’s Detroit was the fourth largest city, with a population nearing 1.8 million people. Currently today the population of Detroit is less than half of what it was during its peak in the late 50’s.
Unlike today, wealth was something that was prevalent during the late 1950’s and 60’s in Detroit. Detroit had the highest per capita income in the entire United States during its glory days but, today it is notoriously know as one of most poverty stricken cities in the county.
Detroit during the 1970’s and 80’s saw serious issues with the auto industry due to sky rocketing oil prices and change in consumer demand for smaller vehicles. As a result of these changes many manufacturing plants closed down and with the closing of these plants tax payer dollars left the city.
It was not until the mid 90’s that Detroit saw glimpses of recovery under Mayor Dennis Archer. During this time Moody’s upgraded Detroit city bonds from Junk to Investment grade status. The recovery that was experienced during the mid 90’s was curtailed by corruption that followed the election of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in the early 2000’s. The administration was plagued with corruption, extortion, nepotism and countless cases of unwise spending. These issues were perpetuated by the lack internal accounting controls. Issues such as the mass amounts of pension and health care debt, loss of jobs, and a shrinking tax base have all played a serious role in the demise of Detroit but, it is in our opinion that the actions or inactions taken by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick were the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s self proclaimed nickname the “Hip Hop Mayor” set the precedent for the goals and motivations of his administration. Mayor Kilpatrick’s antics throughout his time as a Mayor of the city conveyed that he was more concerned with self advancement rather than the betterment of the City of Detroit. Barbara McQuade, a Detroit Attorny, expressed our opinion accurately when she said “Kwame Kilpatrick didn’t lead the city. He looted the city. While Kwame Kilpatrick enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, he watched the quality of life erode for the people of Detroit.”
During Kilpatrick’s tenure as Mayor there were countless acts of corruption. At one point in Kilpatrick’s career he received a $50,000 bribe to push the approval of a sale of 160 acres of city land. In the grand scheme of things $50,000 is not a large sum of money but, it is an example of his agenda to look out for his own needs rather than the city of Detroit’s. It is possible that this land could have been sold to a higher bidder but, due to the bride received by Kilpatrick and the Influence that he had on city officials the City of Detroit was deprived of less money on the sale of the land.
Kilpatrick’s largest example of corruption was showcased by the 83 million dollars worth of municipal contracts that he steered towards long time friend Bobby Ferguson. In reciprocation of directing the contracts towards Ferguson, Kilpatrick received some of the city money that was given to Ferguson to complete the contracted work. This exemplifies once again Kilpatrick’s tendency to comingle City business with personal enrichment. This example also highlights Detroit’s lack of internal controls. From the sounds of it Mayor Kilpatrick had way too much power/influence in regards to the issuance of city Contracts. Controls should have existed that investigated such transactions where closely connected parties conducted business.
One might wonder why questions were not raised in the city council about the close relationship that existed between Mayor Kilpatrick and Ferguson. Questions may not have been raised because under his leadership corruption was the norm. Since 2008, there have been 35 city officials convicted of various forms of corruption.
During this point in Detroit’s history the focus of every city officials attention should have been geared towards understanding the serious financial problems that loomed over the city, like the huge pension debt, shrinking tax base, and the large unemployment rate. Instead of understanding these issues and ultimately attempting to fix them these corrupt individuals lead by Mayor Kilpatrick were robbing the city rather than improving it. Twelve years ago had someone else with a real plan to improve the city been elected to lead Detroit, maybe the financial issues that brought Detroit to the point of insolvency could have been avoided. However, it’s possible that regardless of who was in control over the past 12 years, the City of Detroit and its turbulent economic history was beyond saving.