DETROIT | The clock is ticking on the tenure of embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who could be removed from office as early as next week - ending one of the darkest chapters in city government history.
Mr. Kilpatrick’s former attorney sued him for $80,000 in unpaid fees as his growing cadre of lawyers continued to negotiate a plea deal that would spare him jail time and allow him to keep his law license.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kilpatrick, 38, is set to appear Wednesday before Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, who has invoked a rarely used state law to hold a civil-style hearing in Detroit that could remove him from office.
“Time is running out for him,” said Detroit political consultant Eric Foster of the Urban Consulting Group. “A decision is expected that she will remove him from office and we could expect it by next Friday. I believe we are in the last two weeks of Mayor Kilpatrick’s term.”
Reports of negotiations for a plea deal continued Thursday, but a spokeswoman for the Wayne County prosecutor’s office said she would not comment on any discussions with the mayor’s counsel.
On Wednesday, the mayor reportedly declined a deal that would have him plead guilty to one felony count and serve up to six months in jail.
Jail time apparently remains a sticking point with the mayor, Mr. Foster said.
Once a shining political star dubbed the “hip-hop mayor” for his flashy dress and youthful appeal, Mr. Kilpatrick has been the center of a legal and political firestorm over the past year for his role in a police whistleblower scandal that cost the financially drained city $8.4 million.
In that case, which includes allegations of the married father of three being sexually linked through published text messages to his former chief of staff, he has been charged with eight felonies, including obstruction of justice and perjury.
Mr. Kilpatrick also faces in a separate case two counts of felony assault for purportedly shoving a police officer and investigator who were trying to serve a summons in his whistleblower case.
Mrs. Granholm’s 18-page order seeks answers to two questions: Did Mr. Kilpatrick fail to disclose or conceal from the City Council information material to its review and approval of the whistleblower settlement, and did he authorize the settlement to support his personal interests?
“The mayor’s strength of bargaining is really in office,” Mr. Foster said. “If the governor removes him from office, his biggest bargaining chip has been removed. With that gone, the wheels move forward and if he doesn’t get a plea deal done before the governor makes her decision, then I think jail time will definitely be a part of what happens after that.”
Attorneys for Mr. Kilpatrick, the son of six-term U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Michigan Democrat, have argued that his legal case should be allowed to move forward in the courts before the governor intervenes.
Supporters of Mr. Kilpatrick have described the governor’s move as evidence of a “lynch mob” mentality.
Others have suggested that the governor, who has been criticized by her political opponents for ineffective leadership in the economically challenged state, is taking action against the mayor to protect her own political legacy and perhaps future aspirations.
“I think she might get a mild uptick from a lot of people who will be relieved that someone has finally gotten rid of Kwame, but I think there is also going to be a lot of backlash,” said Bill Ballenger, publisher of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.
“I think there will be some intensity of anger at her by a lot of African-Americans in Detroit who don’t love Kwame Kilpatrick but they are going to resent a white woman up in Lansing kicking out their mayor, whom they elected, when he literally has never been convicted of anything,” he said.
Mr. Ballenger added that “there will be a lot of second-guessing” if Mr. Kilpatrick is thrown out of office.