The Magazine

Motor Mouth City

Detroit's Democratic scandal spreads.

Jun 2, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 36 • By RICHARD BURR
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Kilpatrick's defense lawyers also contend the text messages can't be admitted under the federal Stored Communications Act. Yale law professor Susan Crawford and Michigan State University law professor Adam Candeub disagree, with Candeub saying it will take a "legal miracle" for Kilpatrick to prevail. Kilpatrick's attorneys say the prosecutor must prove that the mayor typed the messages himself. Worthy says she can prove it.

Because the mayor is part of a politically powerful Detroit family, his downfall might create a domino effect. A former state House Democratic floor leader, Mary Waters, and state senator Martha Scott are challenging the mayor's mother, six-term U.S. representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, in the August Democratic primary. Waters said the congresswoman's comment that "we will appeal no matter what it costs the city" reflects arrogance among the Kilpatricks.

"We must stop being victims of those who would be irresponsible," Waters says, a message that may resonate with Detroit and suburban voters in the 13th Congressional District. Waters, who is on leave from her government relations job with Prosecutor Worthy, is aided by political consultant Sam Riddle, who helped Mayor Kilpatrick's 2005 reelection but now is one of the mayor's most vocal critics.

Barack Obama might suffer collateral damage as well. The Kilpatrick scandal "has polarized the Michigan electorate to such an extent that there are very senior Michigan Democrats who think that there is no way any black candidate, let alone Barack Obama, could carry Michigan in the fall," New York magazine's John Heilemann told Chris Matthews on May 11.

That may overstate the case. "Obama is going to have serious problems in Michigan, but I don't think the Kilpatrick situation will be a big part of that," says Michigan GOP pollster Steve Mitchell of Mitchell Interactive. He sees the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a bigger concern among ticket-splitting white voters.

The funny thing is that Kilpatrick's delaying tactics have pushed his preliminary criminal hearing into September, the beginning of the fall campaigns. The scandal will be like the text messages--perhaps easy to delete at first but difficult to erase from the voters' minds.

Richard Burr is associate editor of the
Detroit News editorial page.