EPISODE ELEVEN: THE HIP HOP MAYOR
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR: Rap and politics: the message is more than the music. Hip hop heavyweights descend on Detroit for the National Hip Hop Summit...
JOHN WHITE: In 2003, Russell Simmons brought the National Hip Hop Summit to Detroit. Its goal? Use hip hop to empower young black fans and mobilize them at the ballot box. And Simmons chose Detroit for one particular reason.
ARCHIVAL RUSSELL SIMMONS: The one great reason to come to Detroit is because Mayor Kilpatrick does point to what young people can do when they’re involved in the process. I think of Jay-Z and Puffy, and some of the artists and I think that // their voices are very, very powerful and they’re drummed into young people’s heads all over the world. And Mayor Kilpatrick is the first example of what they can elect.
KWAME KILPATRICK: Hip hop was the theme music to my maturation process. I mean, from Run DMC to Kurtis Blow to the Fat Boys to Whodini. You know it was the way that I dressed. It was the way that I moved.
JOHN: Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was a huge hip hop fan, so when Russell Simmons came calling, he didn’t hesitate.
KWAME: And he came in and started talking to me about getting young people in Detroit registered to vote. And he already had Eminem on board and Nas and I said, “Awww, we got to do it.” And we just started marketing it and pumping it up. The Hip Hop Summit is in Detroit. And it wasn’t my Hip Hop Summit. It was our Hip Hop Summit.
JOHN: On opening night, more than 13,000 fans assembled at Cobo Arena for a star-studded kickoff.
ARCHIVAL DOUG E. FRESH: We live hip hop every day. Hip hop is a lifestyle, it’s our culture. It’s something we do on a daily basis. We dress hip hop, we talk hip hop. We think hip hop. We live hip hop. This is just the way that it is…
KWAME: And Nas took the mic, Doug E. Fresh, Run, Russell, Eminem. I spoke and riled up the crowd. People was going crazy and it was good and it was good energy.
JOHN: After Kwame spoke, it was Russell Simmons’s turn.
KWAME: And then he got the mic and he said, ‘Ah man it’s so great to be here in Detroit, you know, and I’m just going to say this right now: this is America’s Hip Hop Mayor.’ And they went crazy in there.
JOHN: America’s hip hop mayor.
JOHN: Last episode, we told you about Kwame Kilpatrick’s rise to become Detroit’s youngest mayor.
Today on the show, as the hip hop mayor takes office, he starts to stumble.
I’m John White. Welcome...to Crimetown.
ARCHIVAL CROWD: Kwame, Kwame, Kwame!
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR: All hail the new young lion king sworn in today as the city’s 60th mayor.
ARCHIVAL VOX POP #1: It’s a great day. I’m looking forward to this. Kwame will be a great mayor. And I’m very excited about the prospects for the city.
JOHN: It’s early 2002 and hopes are high as Detroit’s newly elected mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, takes office.
ARCHIVAL VOX POP #2: The sun is shining. It’s a new day. It’s morning in Detroit. We all have a lot at stake in the success of Kwame Kilpatrick.
CHRISTINE BEATTY: We were trying to put together our transition team of how the administration would run.
JOHN: This is Christine Beatty, Kwame’s campaign manager from the last episode. Now... she was Kwame’s chief of staff.
BEATTY: And I remember him getting a call from Mayor Archer about, "Oh, by the way, we might have a deficit this year."
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: The current mayor and mayor-elect met privately for an hour and a half. Along with the wisdom of two terms, Mayor Archer passed along 39 reports from city departments. Tomorrow, he and the mayor-elect will go over the budget and the deficit.
BEATTY: And I remember he first called, the deficit was 8 million. And I remember Kwame going back into the room and talking to the finance team, “Well listen this is potentially what we have,” and I remember Mayor Archer calling him back again, saying “It's not 8 million, it was I think 28 million,” and we were like "What??"
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Preparing this document has been a very difficult task.
JOHN: So Kwame made some tough choices and delivered a balanced budget to the City Council.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Detroit is a city with tremendous needs, but our financial resources at this time in our history are very limited.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: And with that, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick spelled out for council members the good, the bad and the ugly of his balanced budget. There will be no pay raises for city employees. Eighteen employees will be laid off. Two departments will be eliminated.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: It is a very lean budget.
JOHN: And balancing the budget wasn’t Kwame’s only challenge.
TUNESIA TURNER: I would say there was an initial prejudice going into it, because he was so young. He was the youngest mayor we've ever had, right?
JOHN: This is Kwame’s cousin, Tunesia Turner.
TURNER: And so then it became part of public opinion: “I don't -- I don't know if I can trust him because he’s so young, he’s so inexperienced, he’s so immature.” He was unabashed and unapologetic. I think the earring is a really good example.
JOHN: The earring. Kwame wore a diamond in his left ear.
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR: In political circles in town, I’m thinking your left ear has probably gotten - has- no left ear has gotten this much attention since van Gogh. But the earring, now we’ve seen it more often, although you’ve taken it off now for the program. I suppose people might be reading that you wanna be a different kind of person to different people at different times. And maybe — I mean, what do you want people to know about the person you are?
ARCHIVAL KWAME: That is something that people draw that from the earring. That’s interesting. I don’t wear it on television shows because it flashes in the face of the announcer and they told me not to do that, but I’ll stick it right back in here. Uh, you know, it’s back, but it won’t define Kwame Kilpatrick. Never has and it never will.
JOHN: Who told you to take it out?
KWAME: It was editorials, “You need to take out the earring” and “the earring is a distraction.” And I saw it too. I’d be doing a speech about the diversification of the economy of the city of Detroit and talking about moving our city into the 21st century. And at the end of that speech, I’d come off the stage and they’d say, ‘What about the earring?’ It was a complete distraction for the first couple of years I was in office.
You know I was talking to a older guy. And I said you know give me some advice, what can I change, what I can I do? What is the problem? And he said the problem is that you were born. And I said, wait a minute, wait a minute. He said that's the problem. So you can't change anything. I just dressed how I dressed in the job. It wasn't that I was trying to be flashy, I was being me.
JOHN: It wasn’t just the earring. Kwame’s bold sense of style—denim suits, alligator shoes, Borsalino fedoras—attracted a lot of attention as well.
TURNER: And I remember he was in the Thanksgiving Parade...
JOHN: Again, Kwame’s cousin Tunesia Turner.
TURNER: And I remember he was in the parade and he wore a Pelle Pelle leather jacket. And I was thinking: “NO! Don’t do it! Don’t wear the Pelle Pelle,” right?
JOHN: Pelle Pelle is a Detroit clothing brand popular with hip hop artists. Its signature item? A big, black quilted black leather jacket with the logo embroidered all over it.
TURNER: So he's there with Santa in his Pelle Pelle, and you know which-- typically, probably wouldn't be a big deal but because of public sentiment, I KNEW that they were going to rag on him for having the pelle pelle jacket on -- and I think Pelle Pelle is local. So, he was always about supporting local business and -- but nobody would have said that.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: And my boys have a very special thing. 1, 2, 3!
ARCHIVAL SONS: Welcome to Detroit Santa!
TURNER: “Oh this young guy who's immature has a Pelle Pelle jacket on. Oh he's a thug.” And that became popular sentiment.
JOHN: And it was around this time that Kwame brought the Hip Hop Summit to Detroit.
DEDAN MILTON: It was an event Russell Simmons put on here in Detroit where he brought some of the top leading hip hop artists around the country.
JOHN: Kwame’s friend and aide DeDan Milton was at the Summit.
MILTON: So he’s introducing all the folks and he introduces Mayor Kilpatrick and just he throws out the statement, “This is the hip hop mayor.”
DREW NELLES: Do you remember how the crowd reacted when he said that?
MILTON: They were all Detroiters so it was like "Yeah, yeah, that's our hip hop mayor, he is like us.” You know, "We hip hop, he hip hop," you know, "I got an earring in my ear, he has an earring!" You know, "I like the way he dress!"
KWAME: As soon as I walked off the stage this press in Detroit, they gathered around me. What do you think about him calling you America’s hip hop mayor? And you know, I said ‘I think it was great.’ You know I grew up in that generation. You know I’m a fan of hip hop in all its forms. And so it was cool to me.The next day, editorials were calling for me to denounce the title. They had a cartoon of me in the paper of me with dreads and gold teeth and gold chains. I mean, it went on for like two or three weeks. At first I thought it was a little stupid. I never thought it would be something that would continue and I certainly never thought it would be something that would stick to me.
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR: Obviously there’s a huge and powerful hip-hop presence in Detroit. It’s been argued that we’ve elected the nation’s first hip hop mayor in Kwame Kilpatrick. But it’s also a troubled city and the most segregated big city in America.
JOHN: Later that week, a local news anchor interviewed Russell Simmons about the Summit.
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR: I know you must wake up in the morning ready to hear the criticisms from people who say that in keeping it real--to put it in the rap parlance--in keeping it real and talking about what’s going on in the street, you’re also helping keep it that way. That we’ve glamorized somehow a really troubled dark side of life. I don’t keep MTV on in my house very much because I have three daughters and I really don’t like the way that women are depicted especially in rap videos--
ARCHIVAL RUSSELL SIMMONS: Let me speak to that.
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR: And that’s a peril for you as you try to move into politics.
ARCHIVAL RUSSELL SIMMONS: The Hip Hop Summit is dedicated to fighting a good war on poverty and ignorance. Which I believe is America’s first war...
MILTON: You know the connotation from the community was like he's one of us.
JOHN: Again, Kwame’s friend and aide, DeDan Milton.
MILTON: But from the business world and from other people it was hip hop was a negative thing. They saw hip hop as being gangsta rap, you know, killing and hos and money and drugs and alcohol. I think that's when it started becoming a reputation of him being in all these clubs and hanging out late at night because that fueled the fire of you know somebody saying “Yeah I saw him in the club.”
SHEILA COCKREL: I would teach a class, teaching a class. At Wayne County Community College on the east side.
JOHN: This is Sheila Cockrel. She was on the Detroit city council, but also taught politics at a local community college.
COCKREL: And they have these young black people just calling him Kwame. And I'm like oh hold on we respect the titles that people have, the positions people have when they represent all of us. It is Mayor Kilpatrick in this class. I got… So this young woman's thing is, “Well, professor, you may say that. But let me tell you about the club down the street and who's in there at 2:00 and I'm like oh my goodness.”
DREW: But what was the student saying?
COCKREL: That these guys were hanging out in clubs after they were supposed to be closed, I mean literally, this was the culture of the administration.
JOHN: When did you first hear about the Manoogian party?
MILTON: I heard from one of the mayor's top security personnel.
JOHN: Dedan Milton was with Kwame when one of his bodyguards mentioned a rumor... something that allegedly happened at the Manoogian mansion, the mayor's official residence.
MILTON: He said, ‘There’s this rumor that you had a party at the Manoogian Mansion. And you had strippers there and that’s when he kind of, the mayor looked back he just started laughing. Come on what is that barbershop talk? Where’s that coming from? Somebody need to squash this rumor right now before you know it takes off. But at that point in the city, once somebody said, it gets in the barbershops and beauty salons then that--it takes on a whole personality of its own.
M.L. ELRICK: I think he really connected with young people because he was young. Right? I remember thinking, ‘Shit, I'm a year older than the mayor of Detroit. What have I been doing with my life, you know? I’m a loser!’
JOHN: This is M.L. Elrick. In the early 2000s, he was a reporter for the Detroit Free Press. His assignment: cover Kwame Kilpatrick.
ELRICK: He probably feels there's no bigger tormentor of Kwame Kilpatrick than me. But I can tell you there's nobody who wanted him to succeed more than me.
JOHN: How did you become aware of the Manoogian story?
ELRICK: Yeah. I think it was just kind of in the air and I didn't even bother with it. I mean, I was just like this is bullshit.
JIM SCHAEFER: Elrick came into the office one day and told an editor there's this rumor that Kilpatrick had a big party at the Manoogian Mansion.
JOHN: This is Jim Schaefer, who also wrote for the Detroit Free Press.
SCHAEFER: So the rumor was that Kwame Kilpatrick had some sort of bachelor party-type event at the Manoogian Mansion, and that during this event there were strippers there, and somehow Carlita Kilpatrick, Kwame's wife, came home during this and saw a dancer giving a lap dance to Kwame Kilpatrick. So Carlita runs up and, depending on which part of the rumor you've heard, either takes a table leg or a pistol and hits her over the head with it.
ELRICK: They pair me up with Schaefer, who is an older reporter, very well respected, has some ties in the police department, so he can maybe work the cop end of it while I work the political end of it.
SCHAEFER: So we teamed up and we knocked on doors, we made phone calls, we asked for police reports and there was nothing. Couldn’t prove it. Never found a damn thing to prove it.
ELRICK: We spent way more time and way more resources than we ever should have investigating the Manoogian Mansion party. But along the way we found out so much we never would have known about Kilpatrick, how he operates, abuses in office.
SHAEFFER: After we looked into it for three weeks, you know, if you spend that much time on a story an editor's gonna say, "Okay, you don't have the rumor story, but what do you have?" So we told the editor, Kilpatrick's got a lot of uniformed police officers serving as his bodyguard 24/7. And he said, ‘well how many do you think it is?’ ‘I don’t know a couple dozen?’ This is a time when if you call 911 they might not show up at your house at all.
SHAEFFER: And so he said, ‘well see how other mayors around the country handle that. Whether they have similar entourages. We found out Kilpatrick had an exponential greater number of these guys doing this than any other mayor. So we did a story that said: Kwame Kilpatrick has more bodyguards than any other mayor in the nation.
BEATTY: This is where we get into image. And again this is us not being as wise about image.
JOHN: Christine Beatty, Kwame’s chief of staff.
BEATTY: You already had this big tall 6 4 African-American man walking into a building. Oh but now it's not just you. It's two other black guys, executive protection unit people, that's walking in with you in trench coats and you know just like you see elected officials when they have their protection units. But everybody is black, they just are. So it was the imagery, when you looked intimidating.
SHAEFFER: Once we started publishing stories about Kilpatrick they were almost self generating. We did this awesome story, if I do say so myself, about his use of the city credit card. When he’d go out of town he’d use it for expensive meals and spa visits and fancy hotels.
BEATTY: We had our first huge mistake when he had a big issue with the city credit card. He had been traveling, you know speaking, you know creating the goodwill for Detroit. ‘Detroit is on the change, a renaissance.’ You know we take people out and so it looks like, Oh so you’re hanging and partying and treating. And we didn't handle that right.
BEATTY: So FOIA, we didn't know about FOIA. There’s this act out there that’s called Freedom of Information and it’s open to the public. And I don't think we understood how the press had a right to whatever was going on in government.
SCHAEFER: We had sued to get credit card records because they wouldn’t give them to us.
JOHN: When Elrick and Schaefer got their hands on the city’s credit card records, they discovered that the Kilpatrick administration had racked up $210,000 in personal charges.
ELRICK: That's when we realized, holy shit, it's not just like he's spending money on dinners and stuff.
JOHN: What kind of stuff was on there that surprised you?
ELRICK: I mean the hotel room for the babysitter at the casino, that was pretty shocking. The spa visits, that always that always struck me as how for a guy who was kind of the hip hop you know gangster looking guy, he loved all the creature (comforts. You know he always wanted people to be rubbing him. You know, he just loved all the high living and just how many expenses were on there, where were like, “What the hell?” And the Navigator was a big thing too.
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR: Questions, questions, so many questions. Confusing documents, odd explanations. And all over a $25,000 auto lease. How has it come to this?
SCHAEFER: There was a Lincoln Navigator, bright red beautiful vehicle. Well, it was assigned to the mayor's wife, Carlita. The media found out about it and there was an uproar.
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR: ...was it a one year lease or a two year lease? Why did it cost so much? Why did the city stamp “mayor’s lease” on the purchase agreement? It’s all mind-boggling to think that it’s come this far...
ELRICK: The city has a billion dollar budget. It's a molecule in a drop in a bucket. But the symbolism is very powerful because at the time he's cutting back the budget. He's cutting back city services.
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR: The Mayor of Detroit announced today layoffs of nearly 400 city employees.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Many employees have been literally doubling their salaries. This has become a way of life. That is unacceptable...
ELRICK: He's cutting back police, and his wife wants a luxury SUV. So the city goes and gets one for her. But they don't just go get one for her. They do it in a very sketchy way.
JOHN: Any expenditure over 25,000 dollars needs to be approved by the Detroit City Council. The price listed on the Navigator lease? 24,995 dollars.
ELRICK: So now you get a city that’s broke as a joke, spending money they don't want anybody to know they're spending in a stupid way, just so the first lady can get what she wants. And this is the mayor once again putting his family above our families. And the symbolism was very powerful.
BEATTY: No reason in the world that we needed to have a red Navigator for his wife. It was dumb.
JOHN: Again, Christine Beatty.
JOHN: What made it dumb?
BEATTY: ‘Cause we had other cars that could have just been there and we didn’t have to order any special twenty five thousand dollar vehicle lease when the city was already you know in financial turmoil, it looked dumb. You know, it was a dumb mistake. Period.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: We clearly screwed up on the communications side. We had no idea that this would be this big of a story. This is an issue that I believe we all have made mistakes, and when I say all, I mean my administration. Yes, and the media have made mistakes and I think it’s imperative that from this point forward, we communicate better.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: We were lied to repeatedly day after day after day.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: I take exception with that. I don’t think that anybody here lied to you. Lying is knowingly giving misinformation and I don’t think anybody here did that, including myself.
JOHN: For Kwame’s critics, all these scandals — the bodyguards, the credit card bills, the flashy SUV — confirmed their worst fears about how a “hip hop mayor” would run the city. But according to Kwame...he never got a fair shake.
KWAME: It was never anything about negotiating the largest casino deal in the history of this country. There was never anything about doing a riverfront that they planned 30 years in five years. Everything you see even if you look up those articles, you'll see every single day it was something about a Navigator, rims on a car, a party, drinking, which I don't even drink. It's all the same type of drumbeat. In America today, you don't have to call somebody a nigger to depict them as a nigger.
DREW: Something that I think Kilpatrick still uses to this day is ... you know, basically the sense that it was, like, an all-white media going after the black power structure in Detroit. And I guess I wonder, you know, you and Elrick are both white.
DREW: It seems like the newspaper is still largely white. Did you ... is that something you guys talked about?
SCHAEFER: Oh yeah. But we were always very aware of, that we were two white guys writing about a black guy and that, I think, made us be extra-careful and extra-fair. He may not believe that but we were definitely aware of it. There is not one story that we wrote that we had to run a correction on. Not one. It wasn't a vendetta on our part. We just thought we were doing good journalism.
KWAME: When does Kwame Kilpatrick ever get the benefit of the doubt? When, when did that ever happen? And I don't believe it ever did. Now, I gave them all kinds of stuff. I tripped over my feet. I messed up. The problem I had, John, is they made that something criminal. Like, like with me it became, oh, he's a criminal, a thug. How am I a thug about a Navigator? Now, I don't understand how I get to be corrupt and a criminal about these things. But it started an avalanche. Misuse of funds. Corrupt. Thug. All of those things are being mentioned in real articles. So you start to get all of these things that people are like, ‘Wait a minute, this guy is horrible, he's a monster.’ When did I become a monster?
JOHN: So, what’s the backstory behind the diamond earring?
KWAME: You know the diamond earring in my ear was the first engagement ring that I got my wife, Carlita. And uh, I promised her that when I got her that little diamond, that little half carat, that one day that I was going to be able to afford to get her a real diamond, a nice one. And uh, and I did that. I got her a new diamond ring, you know, got on my knee again and gave her real diamond. And I took the old one, took it to a jeweler and made it into an earring and I wore it. And so for her and I that was a very special thing. It was like I had her with me all the time. And she didn’t want me to take it out because it symbolizes something personal and private to us. And so that message never came about. It was just take it out, take it out, it’s a bad image. You’re horrible. And eventually I did take it out but when I took it out I really left a real bad pain in Carlita's heart.
JOHN: Why did you take it out?
KWAME: Politics. You know it was caring about more about polls and people and getting the message across. We were about to start a tough election in the beginning of 2005. I was down at Campus Martius, taking my kids ice skating. We had just opened a new ice skating rink downtown in December of ’04. And we were skating and some kind of way one of my sons grabbed my ears when he was falling and the earring came out and we could not find it. It was hundreds of people on the ice rink and we couldn't find the the ring. Earring. And I just never put it back in. She wanted me to replace it. And I just didn’t. And I didn't because I was about to run for office and I did care what the press and the people thought more than I cared what my wife thought. And then after the -- she told me that Detroit was more important than her. And then of course you know all of the other stuff --
PHONE ROBOT: THIS CALL IS FROM A FEDERAL PRISON
KWAME: But I mean, that was very very sad for her, it was her very personal to her. It is still something today that she feels was a seminal moment for us in separating us from one another.
JOHN: Next time on Crimetown...with reelection on the line, Kwame’s troubles get even worse.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: The Manoogian Mansion party. You thought the investigation was over? Think again.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Kwame Kilpatrick has absolutely nothing to hide about any of these allegations.
JOHN: We’re taking a little break for the holidays, but we’ll be back with a new episode on January 7th.
Crimetown is Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. This season is made in partnership with Gimlet Media and Spotify.
This episode was produced by Samantha Lee, Soraya Shockley, Rob Szypko, and me, John White.
The senior producer is Drew Nelles.
Editing by Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling.
Fact-checking by Jennifer Blackman.
This episode was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Sam Bair.
Original music this season composed by Homer Steinweiss.
We recorded some original music at Rustbelt Studios in Detroit in partnership with Detroit Sound Conservancy. Special thanks to Carleton Gholz and Maurice “Pirahnahead” Herd.
Additional music by Kenny Kusiak, John Kusiak, Jon Ivans, and Edwin. Additional mixing by Bobby Lord.
Our theme song is “Politicians In My Eyes” by Death.
Our credit music this week is “Cold Steel” by Phat Kat.
Archival research by Brennan Rees.
Archival material courtesy of WXYZ and the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University.
Show art and design by James Cabrera and Elise Harven.
We’ve got a great website with bonus content for each episode like photos, videos, and newspaper clippings, as well as a full list of credits and a transcript. This week you can see pictures of Kwame’s fashion choices and the Detroit Hip Hop Summit. Check it out at crimetownshow.com.
Thanks to the Detroit Free Press, Peter Bhatia, Mary Schroeder, Mary Wallace, Max White, Randy Lundquist, Erick Hetherington at D&D Video, Devin Scillian, Melissa Samson, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, the Detroit Historical Society, Brendan Roney, Khary Turner, Mike Martin, Ron Fleming, Darci McConnell, Miles Feldsott, and everyone who shared their stories with us. Detroit’s an amazing place, and we’re honored to tell a small part of its story.
Alex Blumberg is the podfather. You know, for a hip hop, gangster-looking guy, he loves all the creature comforts. You know, he always wants people to be rubbing him. He just loves all the high living.
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR: Hi. Welcome to Flashpoint. This has been one of the most bizarre weeks in memory and when it comes to city government, that’s saying something. The last navigator to get this much attention was Ferdinand Magellan. He was beheaded in the Philippines by the way. I’m not saying that this Navigator is gonna lead to anyone’s downfall. I mean it certainly shouldn’t. This story should have been finished and done with days ago, but it’s not. Why? Because getting straight answers about the red SUV has been tougher than finding a hockey score these days.