- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2005

DETROIT (AP) — With his city teetering above a financial abyss, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick went before TV viewers this month and delivered some grave news: He had no choice but to lay off nearly 700 city workers and cut services. This was no time for wanton spending, he said.

Days later, Mr. Kilpatrick found his own spending under attack when a local television station reported that the city just signed a $25,000 lease for a Lincoln Navigator for Mr. Kilpatrick’s wife — a fact the mayor at first denied but eventually confirmed.

The Navigator story snowballed after Mr. Kilpatrick’s bodyguard shoved a TV reporter against a wall. It was just the latest in a series of accusations that the 34-year-old former college football player has used city resources to enhance his personal life.

Mr. Kilpatrick, a first-term mayor facing an election this year, has won praise for his willingness to confront the city’s $230 million shortfall in next year’s budget. The financial problems at least partly predate his administration and stem from the city’s steep population decline since the 1950s and the resulting erosion of the tax base.

But convincing residents that sacrifices need to be made will be difficult, given Mr. Kilpatrick’s own reputation for living large. And making the tough choices needed to balance the budget while surviving an election will be an even greater challenge.

Critics say only political immaturity prevented him from acting in the past three years to stem the escalating budget crisis.

“All of it is exploding in his face because of his neglect and his mismanagement,” said City Council member Sharon McPhail, one of two candidates running against Mr. Kilpatrick in a nonpartisan mayoral primary on Sept. 13. The two top vote-getters will face off Nov. 8.

Officials say the Lincoln Navigator was never used for transporting Mr. Kilpatrick’s family because he did not want it after he learned the price. The police department has been trying to find another use for it.

But questions have been raised about the sports utility vehicle’s price tag of $24,995, because if it had been five dollars more, the contract would have required City Council approval.

Mr. Kilpatrick, who favors expensive suits and a diamond earring, also has been sued by former Detroit police officers who say that guarding him included facilitating wild nights on the town and extramarital affairs.

Mr. Kilpatrick denies the accusations and said Saturday that the press has attacked him because of racial stereotypes.

“When you’re a young African-American man with an earring, it’s hard for people to believe you’re a good husband and father,” he said.

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