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Stare in the DarknessThe Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics$

Lester K. Spence

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780816669875

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816669875.001.0001

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Put Here to Be Much More Than That: The Rise and Fall of Kwame Kilpatrick

Put Here to Be Much More Than That: The Rise and Fall of Kwame Kilpatrick

Chapter:
(p.131) 4 Put Here to Be Much More Than That: The Rise and Fall of Kwame Kilpatrick
Source:
Stare in the Darkness
Author(s):

Lester K. Spence

Publisher:
University of Minnesota Press
DOI:10.5749/minnesota/9780816669875.003.0005

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter tackles the issues of Black Power, urban politics, and representation, and their significance to hip-hop and black political practice. Preston, Henderson, and Puryear (1987), in their book The New Black Politics, argue that the growing election of black mayors and representatives in cities across America would lead to new opportunities for black citizens to reorganize their communities. The chapter recounts Kwame Kilpatrick’s political career in explaining how a new type of black elected official is being called for, with some arguing that hip-hop will provide this new type of official. Kilpatrick was viewed as being able to combine Coleman Young’s stylistic black working-class affinities and Dennis Archer Sr.’s modern expertise; he became an example of black post-civil rights manhood.

Keywords:   Black Power, urban politics, representation, The New Black Politics, Kwame Kilpatrick, Coleman Young, Dennis Archer Sr.

In 2001, Detroit mayor Dennis Archer Sr. announced that he would not run for a third term. Supporters were worried that the next mayor would erase all the gains made during Archer’s administration, a concern heightened when Archer did not anoint a successor. Archer had successfully negotiated deals to bring in a variety of high-profile events and developments into Detroit, including the Major League Baseball (MLB) 2005 All-Star game (in newly built Comerica Park), the 2006 Super Bowl (on Ford Field, built in 2002), and three Las Vegas–style casinos. After Archer decided not to run, several individuals announced their candidacies. After the primary election, only two were left: City Council president Gil Hill, sixtynine years old, and state representative Kwame Kilpatrick, thirty-one years old and son of Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick.

Up against a competitor less than half his age, Hill (best known for his portrayal of Eddie Murphy’s stern boss in the Beverly Hills Cop series) tried to make the election a matter of age and experience versus youth. Kilpatrick’s campaign, on the other hand, successfully made the campaign about passing the torch and making a decision to commit to Detroit’s future “right here, right now.” Appearing against Hill in the mayoral debates, Kilpatrick appeared young and virile. When Kilpatrick beat Hill in the general election with 40 percent more turnout from eighteen- to forty-year-old voters, becoming Detroit’s youngest mayor ever, some political observers thought it was the dawn of a new era (Watkins 2005). Kilpatrick quickly became known as the hip-hop mayor because of his age and personal style (Marks 2002). During his first term, Kilpatrick wore diamond earrings and flashy suits and drove a Lincoln Navigator. But he was also commended for his ability to run one of the largest (p.132) cities in the country and was lauded by news magazines across the nation. Inspired by Kilpatrick’s election, the comedian and actor Chris Rock created the movie Head of State about a young D.C. alderman who ends up running for president.

Supporters held several events for Kilpatrick’s inaugural. The first event was staid—it was held in the GM Building, an architectural symbol of Detroit. The attire was formal, there was little to no dancing, and people spent most of their time talking to one another about business opportunities afforded by the new administration. Kilpatrick spent most of his time moving from suite to suite, where his most prominent supporters were ensconced, away from the crowd. When Kilpatrick finally appeared before the crowd, he spoke in measured tones of the future and of the plans he had for the city and its residents. He spoke about making Detroit the city of the twenty-first century and about bringing his campaign slogan, “Right Here, Right Now,” to life.

The second inaugural event was different. The GM Building represents the corporate jewel of the city. However, its design created a barrier between it and the rest of the city, excluding black working-class Detroiters (House 1987). The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (MAAH), on the other hand, was Detroit’s cultural jewel, designed to be open and inclusive. The event was openly promoted on the radio to the eighteen- to thirtyfive-year-old demographic as a “party” as opposed to an “affair.” With music spun by some of the nation’s best house and hip-hop DJs, attendees danced the entire night. Whereas the first event was sedate, the excitement at this event was palpable. Kilpatrick was born and raised in Detroit and attended Detroit public schools, and many of the partygoers were either Kilpatrick’s classmates or Detroit public school alumni. Whereas the first event was black-tie, people at the MAAH dressed in everything from bright purple suits replete with matching alligator shoes (gators are a working-class Detroit staple acknowledged by the Notorious BIG in his classic “Hypnotize Me”) to throwback T-shirts and Brooks Brothers suits.1

Like his entrance at its black-tie counterpart, Mayor Kilpatrick did not appear at the MAAH event until it was more than halfway over. By then, the party was already in full swing. The DJ, Biz Markie (a popular East Coast MC in the 1980s), was playing some (p.133) of his old hits, a medley highlighted by “The Vapors” and “Just a Friend.” Because many of the attendees had grown up listening to the songs, they sang along. At key moments in the record, Markie engaged in an electronic call and response, turning the volume all the way down, rhythmically giving the crowd the opportunity to fill the silence with their voices.

Mayor Kilpatrick entered the party when Markie was on the turntables. After greeting well-wishers, he stepped on stage. Now, assuming for a second that Kilpatrick was not the mayor-elect but rather that Hill, or even his predecessor Archer, had been elected instead, what would he have done at that moment? Most likely, he would have stopped Biz in the middle of his set and thanked both him and the crowd for supporting him, and then the music would have continued as the mayor-elect made his way around the crowd.

Kilpatrick took a different route. Standing next to Markie, Kilpatrick took the microphone and started singing over the tracks Markie was playing, in sync with the rest of the crowd. Kilpatrick knew the words as well as the crowd did because he grew up listening to the same radio stations and hanging out in the same clubs. Kilpatrick—like the crowd—was raised on hip-hop: on Markie, Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Kurtis Blow, MC Breed, NWA, Ice Cube, and a host of other MCs.2

A black mayor had led Detroit since 1973, when Coleman Young became mayor. Black Detroit baby boomers were in their mid-twenties when Young was first elected on an antipolice brutality platform aided by black nationalist organizers. These organizers, along with many of their peers and elders, registered thousands of black voters that summer, making sure the voters made it to the polls and that their votes counted. When Young was elected, blacks were elated, feeling that for the first time, Detroit belonged to them.

Kilpatrick’s act helped cement his status as a leader in touch with a critical element of Detroit’s population—the same critical element that MCs routinely claimed to speak to and for, an element that was largely spoken about rather than to. Those attending the MAAH party felt the same way blacks did when Young was elected. The moment Kilpatrick took the microphone and started rhyming over Markie’s beats was particularly powerful. The new mayor descriptively and symbolically represented a younger generation of African Americans (p.134) and stood as a shining symbol of black post–civil rights era manhood.

In their edited volume The New Black Politics, Preston, Henderson, and Puryear (1987) argued that the growing election of black mayors and representatives in cities across America would lead to new opportunities for black citizens to remake the communities in which they live. Almost twenty years later, black mayors are comparatively ubiquitous, elected both to majority black cities, such as Detroit, Atlanta, and Newark, and to majority white cities, such as Denver and Minneapolis. Black citizens no longer feel that electing a black mayor is sufficient. Instead, a new type of black elected official is being called for, and some argue that hip-hop will provide this new type of official. In this chapter, I consider Black Power, urban politics, and representation—issues that are essential not only to black political practice and study but to hip-hop as well.

Black Power, the Question of Representation, and Hip-hop Politics

As the civil rights movement gave way to the Black Power movement, activists, politicians, and intellectuals argued that blacks should take political and economic control of their organizations and cities (Touré and Hamilton 1992; Cleage 1972; Boggs 1970). Carmichael and Hamilton (1992, 46–47) noted the following in their work Black Power:

Black power means … that in Lowndes County, Alabama, a black sheriff can end police brutality. A black tax assessor and tax collector and county board of revenue can collect and channel tax monies for the building of better roads and schools serving black people. In such areas as Lowndes where black people have majority control, they will attempt to use power to exercise control. This is what they seek: control…. Black visibility is not black power.

The authors were careful to note that Black Power meant more than the act of putting black elected officials (BEOs) in office. The BEOs had to be connected to black people somehow. They had to both understood and reflect the black experience. This would not only ensure that they could fully represent black interests but also (p.135) that the black community would indeed follow them—the very essence of charismatic leadership and appropriate African American rule (Gooding-Williams 2009). Electing these officials would allocate government resources to the so-called black community, resources previously withheld from them. Increased descriptive representation (the election of more political representatives who are black) was supposed to lead to more substantial representation (better government service for the black community). The black community is the primary recipient of benefits provided by the black elected official. But just as the black community receives from the BEO, it bestows authenticity onto the BEO and, in so doing, distinguishes between those who authentically represent black people and those who are simply visible. Though the election of more BEOs in general was important, the election of black mayors was particularly important, given both the role of twentieth-century cities and the types of resources urban officials had.

The research suggests that BEOs benefit black citizens in three ways. First, black citizens in cities with black mayors are more politically engaged than black citizens in cities without them (and are also more engaged than whites in cities with black mayors) (Bobo and Gilliam 1990; Vanderleeuw and Liu 2002; Leighley 2001). Second, black citizens in black-led cities possess more positive attitudes (Emig, Hesse, and Fisher 1996; Howell and Marshall 1998; Howell, Perry, and Vile 2004). Third, black citizens in black-led cities appear to see more direct benefits from government in the way of contracts, jobs, policing, and even health (Eisinger 1982a, 1982b; LaVeist 1997; Brown 1996; Saltzstein 1989).

But though the election of BEOs has increased significantly, racial inequities persist. Smith (1996, 279) argues that BEOs have been compromised and coopted:

The black mayors, congresspersons, cabinet officers and the rest are unable to deliver on promises and programs to ameliorate conditions in the communities, and increasingly even consider themselves leaders of American institutions who just happen to be black. Even Jesse Jackson, the preeminent “black leader” of the post–civil rights era, subordinated his campaigns for president to the needs (p.136) of the Democratic Party and the Washington establishment rather than those of blacks. Compared to the experience of other ethnic groups in the United States this situation is near unprecedented.

Activists during the 1960s and 1970s fought to elect black politicians with the idea that their election would translate into substantive benefits. Smith argues that these benefits have been slow in coming (when they do come) but also that the politicians’ racial identity was more important to their constituents than it was to them. Furthermore, I suggested that black institutions have had significant challenges in fully integrating black women and the issues of importance to them, often equating black politics and black leadership with black male politics and black male leadership.

My findings in chapter 2 suggest attitudinal differences between blacks born after 1964 and blacks born before it. Per Powell and others, this attitudinal gap could translate into a more significant gap between black leaders (both political representatives and civil rights leaders) and black constituents. And even though the first wave of black mayors has been replaced by a younger, more technocratic second wave, it is possible that this group is unable or unwilling to fully represent younger black constituents. In a volume edited by Persons (1993), a host of scholars note that the second major wave of black mayors downplayed racial politics, even going so far as to “deracialize” themselves. Given the attitudinal findings in chapter 2, it is not clear that black post–civil rights era men and women are interested in turning away from race.

So one argument—the argument made by Powell and the implicit argument made by those who supported Kilpatrick in the 2001 election—is that electing a new, third generation of BEOs will aid blacks because they will better understand the new context, perhaps combining the technocratic expertise of the second wave of black mayors with the civil rights leanings of the first generation. More to the point, they will be more connected to black constituents, more likely to resonate with their concerns, and hence more likely to provide a better quality of leadership. Just as rap is based on sampling music from the past and recombining it to produce something vibrant and new, Kilpatrick was viewed as being able to combine the best qualities of Coleman Young (his (p.137) fierce love of Detroit, his stylistic black working-class affinities) and Dennis Archer Sr. (his deal-making ability, his modern expertise). Kilpatrick became an example of black post–civil rights manhood. However, just as hip-hop itself has been roundly critiqued for the way that women and women’s issues have either been ignored or objectified, Kilpatrick’s act of taking the microphone from Markie at that moment reproduced very problematic ideas about gender and black leadership.

The Modern Context of Urban Government

When the first black mayors were elected in the middle to late 1960s, the federal government directly allocated aid to cities and urban communities through the Model Cities and Community Action Programs. These programs gave resources directly to urban communities in need. By the 1980s, in the midst of the neoliberal turn, the federal government dismantled direct aid among an array of funding cuts to urban areas, even though cities had become home to a substantial proportion of the nation’s poor and had been charged with a variety of unfunded (and expensive) federal mandates (Wilson 1987; Hackworth 2007). Cities then focused on four things: defraying the cost of technology and labor force training; generating new identities as hubs of entertainment and consumption; attempting to attain command functions characteristic of global cities; and offering tax breaks and other incentives to global corporations (Harvey 1977, 2005). Their ability to compete was constrained not only by their ability to offer attractive packages of land and tax incentives to potential developers but also by bond-rating agencies that determined whether their holdings were worth investing in—the investment here being used to bolster budget shortfalls (Hackworth 2007).

Although the federal government reduced the degree of direct aid it awarded to cities, it still played an essential role in the neoliberal restructuring process, and though this process differed depending on what party was in power, both parties supported the core tenets of neoliberalism. Indeed, when the Democrats finally retook the White House in 1992, Clinton helped embed neoliberal principles within the Democratic Party through the Democratic Leadership Council (a group of prominent Democrats, among whom (p.138) Dennis Archer Sr. was a key member) (Reed 1999). Clinton repealed welfare, significantly reducing the amount of time during which single mothers could rely on federal and state governments for aid, connecting welfare to work (Hancock 2004). He also rolled out the more punitive aspects of the neoliberal state by passing legislation that increased the number of federal crimes (including making a number of nonviolent drug offenses federal crimes) and by punitively sanctioning those populations deemed uniquely unable to conform to the dictates of the neoliberal social contract (Loury 2001). And even as he sought to increase the government’s power to punitively sanction populations, he sought to shrink its size in other areas through the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR).

The neoliberal rollback involves reducing government rules, programs, and regulations to allow capital to flow freely, unfettered by undue regulations and labor costs. It also involves reducing the explicit role of politics in market processes. Clinton effectively placed NPR outside the political realm by emphasizing its bipartisan nature and by using technocratic management language that articulated the human costs of the program in terms of increased efficiency and services rather than in terms of layoffs and firings. By the end of NPR, the partnership could proudly proclaim that they had “ended the era of Big Government,” slashing over 425,000 jobs and cutting 640,000 pages of regulations (National Partnership for Reinventing Government 2001).

This initiative didn’t just end at the federal government. A number of cities and suburbs throughout the country latched on to the initiative, attempting to locally implement at least some of the reforms Clinton proposed nationally (Ruhil et al. 1999; Krebs and Pelissero 2006). Detroit was among the first of these cities, as Mayor Archer brought in automotive executives to teach corporate management principles to government employees under the aegis of making government more responsive and efficient (Vitullo-Martin 1995).

To help cities revitalize spaces that were not working, Clinton created legislation that would name a number of urban areas “empowerment zones.” These zones theoretically worked to open previously untapped urban and rural markets for economic development, (p.139) elite consumption, and population control through a combination of tax abatements and public–private partnerships. Just as individuals were disciplined through technologies of subjectivity and subjection, cities and rural areas went through the same process. Applicants competed for Empowerment Zone status as opposed to garnering Great Society resources based on need (Lemann 1991). Winning cities were chosen based on how well they disciplined themselves according to neoliberal principles. How well did the city promote partnerships with private stakeholders? How well did the city foster small business development and entrepreneurialism? Did the city concretely set out timetables for progress? The very process of applying for empowerment zone status disciplined cities, as the process itself required that city officials create the type of public–private partnerships the program prized. And the rewards were themselves neoliberal policy prescriptions—reduced regulations, increased tax credits for employers, and social service block grants designed to reduce dependency. Competition, reduced regulation, reduced reliance on the welfare state—these three elements are fundamental aspects of the neoliberal rollout. Again, Detroit (under Archer’s leadership) was one of the first awardees, and its application was judged exemplary (Allen 2003).

Archer’s attempt to transform Detroit paralleled Clinton’s attempt to transform the federal government. But like Clinton’s work, Archer’s work was not confined to the policy arena:

Responsibility—his own and his constituents’—is a major theme of Mayor Archer’s. In his inaugural address, he exhorted his largely black audience: “Sweep the sidewalk in front of your house. Clean the rubbish from the storm sewer on your street. Pick up the broken glass in your alley. Demand that I get the trash picked up—on time. Insist that I make the buses run—on time.” He paused, leaned forward, and said, “And get a grip on your life and the lives of your children!” He got a tumultuous standing ovation. (Vitullo-Martin 1995)

Just as Clinton used images of black women to drive home the message of personal responsibility, Archer used the image of black cultural dysfunction to drive that message home at the local level. (p.140) Although Archer’s political ideology was not nationalist, he attended the black nationalist–led Million Man March in 1995. During his fiery speech, he urged attendees to take more responsibility for the conditions of their neighborhoods, peeling back his earlier request that citizens hold the city accountable. “If the city cannot pick up the trash … pick it up yourself!”3

Neoliberal policies implemented at the national level trickled down to the local level, shaping fiscal and political priorities. In critical ways, Detroit became a test case for the neoliberal transformation of urban spaces. When Archer decided not to run for office, and Kwame Kilpatrick was elected to succeed him, many looked to Kilpatrick to provide a new mode of leadership, one influenced by hip-hop both symbolically (his style) and substantively (his dedication to the needs of populations represented by hip-hop).

Detroit and Neoliberal Politics: The Case of Kwame Kilpatrick

Kwame Kilpatrick’s first major initiative was called “Kids, Cops, Clean.” Recognizing that there was a deficit in positive activity between the hours of 3:00 and 8:00 p.m., Kilpatrick instituted Mayor’s Time, a program designed to enhance activities for kids. Funded chiefly through foundation grants (the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation donated over $800,000, while the Skillman Foundation donated another $775,000), the program placed dozens of programs, conducted by various institutions throughout the city, under its umbrella. Also part of the program was CareerWorks, a program designed to “provide remedial education, life management skills, work readiness skills, career, and leadership development skills training” to 2,665 fourteen- to eighteen-year-old youths.

The “Cops” component of “Kids, Cops, Clean” attempted to address Detroit’s problematic police department. Coleman A. Young was elected as Detroit’s first African American mayor largely off his campaign to diversify the police force and reduce police brutality (Young and Wheeler 1994). But although he was moderately successful in diversifying the police department, he was not able to revolutionize it. Between 1987 and 1999, the Detroit Police Department (DPD) paid more than $123 million in out-of-court settlements to victims of police brutality. A review of its policies found that during this period, DPD officers spent significantly less (p.141) time training than officers in Atlanta, Houston, San Diego, Washington, D.C., or Chicago. This review suggested that the DPD spend more resources on risk assessment to reduce both the number of citizens brutalized by police and the amount paid out in lawsuits. It also suggested that DPD spend more resources on recruiting and training quality officers (Panel, Citizens Review 2001). The police component of Kilpatrick’s initiative did not focus on these suggestions. It did restructure DPD, but it restructured DPD for the purpose of devoting more resources to fighting crime (purchasing three police helicopters and reorganizing the department to bring more police officers onto the street, instead of leaving them behind desks).

The “Clean” component of “Kids, Cops, Clean” sought to clean up Detroit through a citywide campaign that would reduce the amount of trash and garbage lying around. City funds were allocated for the purpose of policing, while the “Kids” component was supported largely through foundation grants. The “Clean” component, however, was different. It was staffed by one person, who was given the responsibility of coordinating cleaning activities. The cleaning campaign itself was conducted by Detroit volunteers.

Kilpatrick’s “Kids, Cops, Clean” initiative was cited by Craig Watkins (2005) as a testament to Kilpatrick’s interest in using government to address pressing issues salient to the post–civil rights generations. Though the program did do this, it is crucial to recognize the neoliberal elements that it contained. First was the disciplinary component—the initiative directly disciplined three populations (Detroit youth specifically, Detroit contractors involved in the program, and Detroit citizens broadly) and indirectly disciplined one (criminals). Though it is true that Mayor’s Time did represent an important attempt to integrate youth into the city, it also reflected the neoliberal goal of controlling populations and rendering them suitable for the market. The kids were placed in programs that taught them skills designed to make them suitable for the job market, among these being “personal responsibility.” Taking part in the “Kids” component required participants (and contractors) to keep careful records of participation, with kids having to sign in and out of the program and contractors having to keep track of youth performance using a wide variety of metrics. And though garbage pickup is technically a responsibility of the city (p.142) itself—residents and businesses pay taxes so that the city can pick up trash—here residents were urged to volunteer to help clean up the city.

The second neoliberal element that appears in both the youth programs and the cleaning initiative is public–private partnership. City government can help coordinate private initiatives and get grant money from private sources to help increase the scale and scope of the program, but ultimately, individuals must somehow be empowered to take control—whether empowered to volunteer to clean up their own city or empowered to engage in activities designed to involve youth. In this case, private initiatives were used to fulfill public priorities—private citizens were tasked to take responsibility by cleaning up the city (which, as I note later, has benefits above and beyond the obvious).

The third element that plays a very specific role within black politics is the rhetoric that seeks to attach communal ideas of social order to the neoliberal principles of individual action. In his speech to the city council addressing the budget with regard to the clean-city initiative, Mayor Kilpatrick noted, “The cleanup is important because if a city is going to have pride, it has to be clean.” Cleanliness, he argued, is not only about health but also about generating pride and self-esteem, which in turn would lead to increased development opportunities and (economic) citizenship. At the individual level, youths are taught personal hygiene and etiquette to make them feel good about themselves and to make them job ready. At the city level, when the city cleans itself up, it somehow feels good about itself, and this makes it much more likely to attract investment dollars.

One can go back before the neoliberal turn to hear this type of rhetoric. Black elites have long connected pride to citizenship rights, implicitly transforming it from a right into a privilege. Not only did Booker T. Washington connect the two, but Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois, and later, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X (among others) made these arguments (Carby 1998; Cohen 1999; Gaines 1996; King and Washington 1991; X and Breitman 1989; Van Deburg 1997). But with the neoliberal turn, black cleanliness at the individual and city levels becomes a requirement for white business investment in black governing activities as well as a (p.143) requirement for (racial) pride and full citizenship. Like his predecessor, Kilpatrick blamed the inability of the city to provide effective cleaning services on the citizens of the city rather than on the city’s capacity to provide services. From the outset, his initiative, though it was pitched to help the youth population he sought to represent in some ways, reproduced neoliberal dictates. This embrace of neoliberal practices was also reflected in his budget priorities.

Budget Priorities

Detroit was beset with budget crises throughout the early years of the twenty-first century, the consequence of carryovers from the Archer administration (Kilpatrick inherited a sixty-nine million dollar deficit) and dynamics out of the control of both Kilpatrick and Archer. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had devastating effects on the economy at the national and local levels. Similarly, the growing costs of health care and pensions began to exert their toll on Detroit’s finances, as the population of government employees grew older.

In his address to the city referring to the effect of these costs (which were fixed by law), Kilpatrick noted his dedication to ensuring city employee retirement fund stability because he understood how the generation on the cusp of (or in) retirement paved the way for the next generation. But as I will show later, he was not (and arguably could not be) dedicated to ensuring that future generations would have the same types of benefits that past generations had. The budget deficits continued over the next few years, threatening to balloon to over three hundred million dollars by Kilpatrick’s fourth year in office. Over the next four years, Kilpatrick responded by doing the following:

  • eliminating fifty-five hundred jobs from the city government, reducing the overall workforce by 25.9 percent

  • reducing gross payroll costs by $272 million

  • laying off twenty-four hundred workers, including police officers and firefighters

  • reorganizing the police department, merging twelve districts into six

  • closing fire stations

  • (p.144) floating $1.2 billion in municipal bonds to finance the city’s pension plan

  • spinning off both the Detroit Zoo and the Detroit Historical Museum as nonprofit agencies

  • adding a three hundred dollar service fee for trash pickup

  • increasing the cost of bus fares by 25 percent

  • decreasing bus frequency4

As is most notably evident in the bus fare increase and the trash pickup fee, the bulk of the debt was borne by citizens and workers in the least position either to pay for it or to afford it. Unable to partake in state revenue sharing because the state itself was cash strapped, and unable drastically to turn to the federal government, the city government was in the position of having to cut and slash programs. The end result was that more responsibility was shifted onto citizens to provide the services that the city used to provide.

In the same budget address, Kilpatrick pointed to a number of successes. These successes were the flip side of the neoliberal agenda, which is not simply about rolling back city services but also about using local government to create a better climate for business development. The successes Kilpatrick pointed to included the following:

  • an increase in downtown occupancy in class A buildings

  • an additional construction of five hundred thousand square feet in office space

  • thirty-three new restaurants opened

  • an increase in housing prices and an increase in new housing starts that outstripped suburban housing starts

  • the construction of three permanent casinos with over twelve hundred new hotel rooms5

These, plus the attractions Archer negotiated while in office (Super Bowl XL, the MLB All-Star game) were essential to the growth of the city. This is neoliberal revitalization in a nutshell, increasing Detroit’s status as a unique place for tourism and entertainment and using market-driven approaches to garner revenue either through trickle-down effects (where downtown development (p.145) indirectly increases tax revenue through increased profits) or through public–private deals (where casinos devote a share of their revenue to the city in exchange for the opportunity to build there). Branding Detroit as a place for tourism and business comes on the back of cuts that affect the quality of life of Detroit’s working-class and poor citizens.

To keep the city’s bonds from falling into state receivership—a fate that had already befallen Pittsburgh—Kilpatrick restructured and reinvented local government. These moves involved slashing services, laying off workers, and selling off some of the city’s most valuable resources as well as using downtown development and place-marketing programs to shore up deficits that could not be fixed through corporate tax increases. They involved creating limited partnerships with private agencies that had the largesse to fill at least some of the gaps in social services—partnerships that would enable city officials to play a cheerleading and coordinating role, without having to sacrifice funds they did not have. They also involved a series of rhetorical moves that sought both to prepare citizens for the lack of services by urging them to fill the gap themselves and to blame the most vulnerable among them for the deficits in service provision.

Up to this point, the data I have provided are largely anecdotal. In Figure 4.1, I present Kilpatrick’s budget and compare it to Archer’s. The primary argument supporters made about Kilpatrick was that his connection to hip-hop—a connection established by his age and his explicit early embrace of the subculture—would lead to a different set of outcomes compared with someone who was not deeply involved in the culture. A secondary argument was that his connection would also make him more responsive, given that his status would render him more connected to citizens. We know that Kilpatrick was able to get more youth voters to the polls in both his electoral campaigns against the much older Gil Hill and the middle-aged Freeman Hendrix, but representation is not only about getting people to the polls; it is also about programmatic priorities. Comparing his budget priorities with those of his predecessor presents a fuller picture. If, indeed, he had a different set of priorities from his predecessor, we should see this reflected in the budget.

(p.146)

Put Here to Be Much More Than That: The Rise and Fall of Kwame Kilpatrick

Figure 4.1. Detroit Police Department spending as a percentage of total city budget.

The city of Detroit’s budget is divided into two programmatic categories: general city agencies (which are composed of executive agencies, legislative agencies, judicial agencies, and nondepartmental agencies) and enterprise agencies. What I am chiefly concerned with here are spending priorities as reflected by the line items for the thirty-two executive agencies. Of these thirty-two executive agencies, there are five that I would argue represent the mayor’s commitment to youth (and indirectly to hip-hop): recreation, youth, cultural affairs, communication and creative services, and arts. In Table 4.1, I trace the percentage of the budget allocated to these five items in sum. If Mayor Kilpatrick represented the post–civil rights generation (and its successors) substantially, then I would argue that this should be reflected in a consistent commitment to these budgetary items, particularly in comparison with his predecessor, Dennis Archer. Keep in mind that as of the 2005 census, there were approximately 260,000 youths younger than eighteen residing in Detroit (compared with 295,000 five years earlier), with over half of them receiving food stamps, 58 percent of them being insured by Medicaid, and almost 76 percent of them receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

These figures reveal that as an overall percentage of the budget, the combined five departments were never that much of a priority (p.147)

Table 4.1. Annual budgets for youth and youth-related services by the Archer and Kilpatrick administrations, as percentages of the total Detroit city budget

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Dennis Archer administration

Kwame Kilpatrick administration

Arts

0.56

0.57

0.55

0.60

0.55

0.03

0.03

0.03

0.03

0.02

0.02

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

Communication and creative services

0.09

0.09

0.11

0.07

0.07

0.07

0.07

0.08

0.09

0.06

0.07

0.08

0.00

0.00

0.00

Cultural affairs

0.00

0.00

0.01

0.02

0.03

0.03

0.03

0.03

0.04

0.03

0.06

0.06

0.00

0.00

0.00

Recreation

2.17

2.99

2.07

1.95

2.23

2.23

2.13

2.14

2.38

1.62

1.94

1.43

1.38

0.96

1.09

Youth

0.00

0.02

0.02

0.03

0.03

0.05

0.04

0.11

0.15

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

Source: City of Detroit

to begin with, barely approaching 3 percent of the budget at their height. Note, however, that the average budget outlay during Mayor Archer’s two administrations (which extended from 1994 to 2001) was much higher than the average outlay during Kilpatrick’s administration. Further note the steady decline from the beginning of Archer’s term to the last year we have data for the Kilpatrick administration. Mayor Kilpatrick’s highest percentage (in his second term in office) was not as high as Archer’s lowest percentage (in his penultimate term in office). By the last year, barely 1 percent of Kilpatrick’s budget was devoted to the five items. Disaggregating them, we find that the Recreation Department takes up the bulk of the spending, while the other items do not even come close. In fact, spending for youth totally falls out of the budget by 1998 (the first year of Archer’s second term). One argument is that this slack was taken up by Mayor’s Time, and this is a fair point. However, what was crucial about Mayor’s Time was its reliance on a combination of private foundations and city volunteers. Mayor’s (p.148) Time very well may have been a crucial priority for Kilpatrick, but this is not expressed in the budget.

Detroit youths, to a greater extent than youths in Michigan in general, are dealing with the health consequences of poverty. Although it is not possible to disaggregate the spending on health and wellness by age group, an examination of the budget outlays for health, for human services, and for human rights can present a sense of how important these items are to the respective mayors (see Table 4.2).

More than twice as much money was spent on health, human services, and human rights as was spent on recreation, youth, cultural affairs, communication and creative services, and arts (Table 4.2). This makes sense for two reasons. First is that items such as parks and recreation are vital for a certain quality of life, but they are not vital for life itself. In contrast, the Department of Health and Wellness is about saving lives. The second reason it makes sense is that the health needs of the elderly are added to the needs of youth in the budget. Looking at spending across time, we see a gradual decrease during the Archer years, just as we saw earlier. However, the Kilpatrick years are highly erratic, indicating not only that the ability to pay was significantly constrained but possibly also that the political will to sustain the resources was constrained (and erratic). However, recall the punitive aspect of neoliberalism that requires a significant police presence.

Both Archer and Kilpatrick dedicated a significant portion of their budgets to police. Between 25 and 30 percent of Archer’s budget was routinely devoted to police spending, with the raw dollar amount increasing each of his years in office. The Kilpatrick years were more sporadic, but from the data, it appears that when his budget allowed for it, he devoted more resources to police spending. But how are these resources allocated within the police department? Juxtaposing resources devoted to the investigation of crimes against resources devoted to preventative measures targeted toward youths gives a sense of where the administration’s priorities lay. Figure 4.2 shows that the amount of resources devoted to criminal investigations dwarfed those devoted to youth—to preventative measures designed to prevent youths from engaging in crime in the first place. At most, Archer devoted 2.4 percent of (p.149)

Table 4.2. A comparison of spending on health and human services by the Archer and Kilpatrick administrations, as percentages of the total Detroit city budget

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Dennis Archer administration

Kwame Kilpatrick administration

Human Rights Department

0.04

0.04

0.04

0.04

0.05

0.05

0.07

0.05

0.07

0.06

0.07

0.06

0.08

0.02

0.03

Human Services Department

1.63

1.46

1.75

1.84

1.70

1.75

1.97

1.71

2.06

1.58

2.28

1.97

2.64

2.08

2.02

Department of Health and Wellness Promotion

4.79

4.30

3.87

3.80

3.56

3.43

3.22

2.98

3.38

2.46

3.21

2.70

3.48

2.44

2.78

Source: City of Detroit

police spending to youths (in 1997). In contrast, in 2000, Archer devoted 10.58 percent of police spending to criminal investigations. There does appear to be a difference here, as Kilpatrick spent less on criminal investigations in both raw dollars and as a percentage of the overall police budget, but note that he did not increase the amount of spending on youths.

What the case study of Kwame Kilpatrick shows is that though it is possible to use the vehicle of hip-hop to increase voter turnout, and even to increase the openness of government in some ways, it is very difficult to use hip-hop to address the fundamental problem of urban governance in the twenty-first century. However, there is another possibility.

The Resignation, Black Masculinity, and the Construction of the Political

On September 4, 2008, Kwame Kilpatrick pled guilty to two felonies for obstruction of justice in an attempt to hide an affair he had had with his chief of staff (Christine Beatty). Kilpatrick (p.150) resigned and left office officially two weeks later. He was sentenced in October 2008 to 120 days in jail. As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to repay the city one million dollars, to forfeit his law license, to serve five years’ probation, and to lose his pension. He was also prohibited from running for office for five years (Crain’s Detroit Business 2008). In May 2010, Kilpatrick was found guilty of violating the conditions of his plea agreement and was sentenced to up to five years in prison. Similarly, Beatty resigned her office and served sixty-nine days in jail for her role in the scandal. She was also prevented from attending law school for five years, was placed on probation for five years, and was forced to pay the city of Detroit one hundred thousand dollars in restitution.

While Mayor Kilpatrick presided over the budget crises besetting the city, he also dealt with a number of minor scandals. The more egregious of these involved two police officers who alleged that they were fired because they were investigating personnel decisions made by the mayor. The trial took place in 2007 in suburban Detroit, and a majority of the jurors were (white) suburbanites. The police officers won their lawsuit and received six and a half million dollars in damages (Bunkley 2007). Mayor Kilpatrick argued that race was involved, given the makeup of the jury, and sought to appeal the damages, until he learned that one of the lawyers had copies of text messages that contradicted testimony he and Beatty provided on the stand, testimony denying their affair and that they plotted to fire one of the police officers. At that point, he settled with the two police officers and one other from a separate suit for the amount of $8.4 million, provided that they did not divulge the existence of the text messages (Davey and Bunkley 2008).

In February 2008, through a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, and the Detroit City Council (which was not made aware of the details of the settlement), text messages between Kilpatrick and Beatty were made public. They revealed that Mayor Kilpatrick had lied on the witness stand not only about the wrongful termination but also about the affair with Beatty (Townes 2008). Furthermore, although this was not highlighted in the news media, the text messages also revealed that Kilpatrick had given preferential treatment to contractors with whom he had personal relationships. For its work in uncovering (p.151)

Put Here to Be Much More Than That: The Rise and Fall of Kwame Kilpatrick

Figure 4.2. Comparison of the Detroit Police Department budget devoted to youth services and to the Criminal Investigations Bureau as percentages of the total departmental budget.

the text messages, the Detroit Free Press received the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. The city of Detroit spent three million dollars on a special election, electing steel magnate and former Detroit Piston Dave Bing to fulfill the rest of Kilpatrick’s term. Bing was then elected for a full term in 2009.

Even before Kilpatrick was forced to resign, the scandals exerted a political toll on him. In the 2005 mayoral primary, he finished second to Freman Hendrix (Archer’s deputy mayor), though he was able to beat Hendrix in the general election. Yet Kilpatrick’s resignation, the circumstances behind it, and his fall from grace were stunning, given the state of the city and Kilpatrick’s promise. Subsequently, I consider Kilpatrick’s resignation, his style, and the media coverage as well as what they reveal about the links between the new black politics, masculinity, hip-hop style, and the construction of what is routinely covered as political.

I have addressed the construction of masculinity in rap music. I focused on the realist MC who is not only male and masculine but hypermasculine—without fear, aggressively violent, and aggressively (p.152) (hetero)sexual. Rap did not begin as a particularly hypermasculine project—although it was primarily performed by men—but by the mid-1980s, it had become one. Visually, as the music video became an important delivery system for the music, hypermasculinity became associated with racial authenticity. This racial authenticity translated into a form of authentic charismatic leadership for the MC and for those attached to hip-hop.

What are the political consequences of the move toward hypermasculinity and authenticity? Within hip-hop and rap, we can talk about the way that resources are allocated and withheld from MCs based on the degree to which they adhere to this conception of masculinity—50 Cent gets airplay and the money needed to market his album, while an album like Common’s critically acclaimed Electric Circus gets less airplay and a smaller marketing budget. Because Common doesn’t perform hypermasculinity, his record label does not know what to do with him as a performer. We can also talk about the growing emphasis on the MC over the DJ—MCs get the bulk of the resources, while the work DJs perform is increasingly automated (with music producers and electronic music software replacing their skills).

In the realm of electoral and movement politics, individuals use ideas about hypermasculinity and authenticity to gain leverage when engaged in intergenerational conflict over black political leadership, implicitly and sometimes explicitly using it to mark themselves as new black political leaders. Given the example of Kevin Powell—who, in his first two attempts, was unable to unseat the much older incumbent Edolphus Towns—it would be inaccurate to say that this always leads to electoral success. However, it is clear that it did lead to success for Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick was able to turn out more young voters and was able to establish himself as a new type of leader against his much older competitor. When Kilpatrick took the mic at the MAAH, he combined the past with the present (and the future) in a way that deeply resonated with Detroiters, and with young African Americans in general. These minor stylistic components became magnified in the political arena, enabling him to implicitly establish his virility against his first opponent (who, again, was much older). After winning, he became the face of the “new black politics,” (p.153) later accompanied by Newark mayor Corey Booker; Washington, D.C., mayor Adrian Fenty; and (then) Senator Barack Obama. To the degree that hip-hop expresses “the spiritual identity” of black folk in Detroit, Kilpatrick was able to (briefly) capitalize on this hypermasculinity among blacks in Detroit and elsewhere.

But the move to hypermasculinity and authenticity also has other consequences. Attitudinally, although hypermasculine black men are a prime source of entertainment for whites (in the National Basketball Association, the NFL, and rap music), white political attitudes about hypermasculine black men partially shape neoliberal shifts toward punitive public policy. Similarly, it has consequences institutionally, as schools and other institutions develop rules and regulations that produce and often exacerbate the achievement gap between black males and other groups and that penalize black males for behavior for which other groups are not penalized (Ferguson 2000; LaVeist and MacDonald 2002; Davies and Saltmarsh 2007; Phoenix 2004; McDowell 2000).

And even as we can consider the spate of writings, conferences, and meetings on “endangered black boys” as an attempt by African Americans to deal with the very real consequences of neoliberalism for black males, we can also consider them as attempts to regulate and discipline black male bodies, a practice that, among African Americans, goes back to Jim Crow—at least (Mitchell 2004; Summers 2004; Ross 2004). As such, political representatives like Kilpatrick bind themselves to black voters by adopting these stylistic accoutrements, while simultaneously repelling whites. In fact, Kilpatrick’s connection here possibly makes his own neoliberal critique of black behavior resonate more with black populations. But Kilpatrick’s private (then publicized) affair with his chief of staff exacerbated negative sentiments among whites, and then among blacks as well.

Finally, I have argued that the neoliberal turn, particularly in urban government, has removed a whole host of activities from the purview of the political and rendered them as rational policy practices. Neoliberal governmentality is not only about rational problem solving; it is about replacing the political with the rational. Just as Bill Clinton did not depict his reinventing government program as being political (as shifting government priorities through firing government workers and outsourcing certain government (p.154) functions), Kilpatrick asked that the city council not think about the various cuts he suggested as being inspired by politics—and they were not; rather they were depicted as being necessary for the city to attain a high bond rating and for Detroit to transition from a city stuck in 1985 to a twenty-first-century metropolis. These decisions are political in that they are the consequence of political decisions—political representatives approve the budget. They are political in that they reflect political priorities to focus on one set of problems (in this case, the debt directly and Detroit bond ratings indirectly) over another set of problems (increased poverty, unemployment, and homelessness).

Focusing on how Kilpatrick carries himself in this specific case magnifies the political consequences of Kilpatrick’s private decisions to the point that they outstrip a larger discussion about how resources are allocated in Detroit. More to the point, they replace and stand in for larger discussions about how resources are allocated in Detroit. In the wake of the scandal, a number of newspaper articles ran stories on what could have been done with the money paid out to the former officers:

Detroit recreation centers have been closed and city workers have seen benefit and job cuts. The city has begun charging residents $300 a year for trash pickup to raise money. The $9 million paid to former cops Gary Brown, Harold Nelthrope and Walt Harris and for legal costs to settle their lawsuits may seem small in the context of the city’s $1.5-billion general fund budget, but it’s still enough to pay for … 143 firefighters … 126 police officers … 1,200 abandoned homes demolished. (Elrick 2008)

These stories are critically important: they help to bring the political stakes home for citizens. Given that city resources are finite, every decision to spend money in one place requires a requisite cut in some other place. Unless the city is able to garner a grant to bolster resources, for example, an addition to parks and recreation has to come from a requisite reduction in some other area. Citizens made aware of these types of decisions are far more informed than citizens not made aware in an empirical sense. But in a richer sense, citizens made aware of these types of choices can become much (p.155) more reflective about what they believe the purpose of government to be. The money that the city has to pay out to victims is money that could have been spent on a wide array of items that citizens need. These specific stories are important because they make the costs of violating the public trust crystal clear. However, serious questions remain as to the degree of scrutiny that major newspapers apply to other economic decisions.

In the preceding chapter, I found that in the attempt to create a unique mode of hip-hop politics, charismatic male activists reproduced the institutions they sought to replace, creating the same challenges their predecessors faced. In this chapter, I found that this dynamic is replicated at the local level in the electoral arena. Kwame Kilpatrick successfully used hip-hop to connect with black voters and Detroit residents; however, because of the significant constraints that urban elected officials face, he reproduced the neoliberal approach of his predecessor. Whereas Kilpatrick’s charismatic brand of leadership possibly gave him the license to reproduce neoliberal arguments about black populations as well as neoliberal urban policies, it also led to his downfall. Though this led to increased scrutiny of his decisions by media institutions, this scrutiny was disconnected from a larger critique of Detroit politics, one that could have led to another vision of African American leadership driven by dialogue among black people as opposed to top-down charismatic directives. (p.156)

Notes:

(1) By way of comparison, I attended a similar event held eight years earlier, when Dennis Archer was inaugurated. The majority of the partygoers at that event were black urban professionals who were connected by way of a network that included organizations like Jack and Jill, black fraternities like Alpha Phi Alpha (both Archer and Kilpatrick are members), and schools like the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago.

(2) Although I focus on Kilpatrick in this chapter, when Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter was first elected, he performed “Rapper’s Delight” live at a Philadelphia inaugural event. The performance can be found on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zxCOKG3orQ).

(3) I attended the event and heard Archer’s speech. He has given similar (p.204) remarks in other contexts, implicitly blaming black Detroiters for the condition of the city, even when, as the Million Man March example suggests, the city itself is to blame. Detroit taxpayers, for example, pay taxes so that the city can (among other things) pick up and dispose of trash.

(5) Ibid.