by R. Asmerom
When Kwame Kilpatrick took office as Mayor of Detroit in 2002 at the young age of 31, he was the man; a role model, a shining example of a young and successful Black rising star in politics. As fast as he rose, however, just as swiftly did he fall. Eight years later, Kilpatrick is not a dynamo but a joke of sorts. He is currently serving a prison term on corruption related charges and is now facing 38 federal criminal charges.
Along with his father and three others, Kilpatrick is accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes and extorting money from municipal contractors and other entities. Kilpatrick is also accused of using money from his nonprofit to fund his family’s lavish lifestyle as well as kicking back hundreds of thousands to his father. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Obstruction of justice and marital infidelity are also involved.
The manner in which the downfall of Kilpatrick played out is one fit for theater. Sure, he’s not the only politician to engage in such dirty politics but the degree to which Kilpatrick lied, extorted and bribed his years though office is certainly not the norm. The other high profile city corruption case this year unfolded in the small town of Bell, California, where 8 city officials, including the Mayor, were arrested for misappropriation of funds and making/receiving illegal loans.
As for Kilpatrick, there is now evidence that his unlawful ways began before he took the Mayoral chair, when he served on the Michigan House of Representatives. According to Dr. Deb Brown, a licensed psychologist, corruption is fueled in part by the ability to get away with things continuously.
“When I was working in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Indiana, one common pattern that we often observed was the surprise that many offenders felt when they were arrested,” she said. “If they got away with one drug deal, then they’d try another. And if they got away with that one, then they’d try another. And eventually they developed the sense that they were so clever, so unusually skillful at breaking the law that they would never be caught. Until, of course, they were.”
You have to wonder how politicians like Kilpatrick and the mayor of Bell could fathom sustaining such criminal behavior. How, in a position of power, did they believe that they would not get caught eventually, when it only takes one person or one small discrepancy to undo all that’s already been done? As illogical as it appears from the outside, the same psychological influence is at play behind all white collar criminal schemes like that of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and the Enron scandal.
“As we look at the politicians of our time, many, not all, show signs of grandiosity and narcissism, said Dr. Angela Chester, a pastoral counselor at New Life Pastoral in Long Beach, California. “They believe that they are larger than life. They are no longer an elected official, but a king of the land in which they rule. The power and authority they seek to gain does not fill the void that they have been trying to fill. Yet, they continue to become more and more obsessed with status, manipulating those around them for their own selfish gain.”
This feeling of invincibility is really the only explanation for how those in power justify irrational behavior. The swift rise and the tragic fall of the Kilpatricks and Madoffs will play out over and over again as greed continues to blind and compromise the moral values of some power seekers. “Isn’t this how one carries himself when in such position? Robert Schuller is quoted as saying ‘What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail? The politician answers, everything!’”