DETROIT — Mired in a sex scandal that crippled the governance of Detroit all year, the city's troubled mayor chose Thursday to walk out of office rather than run the increasing risk of being heaved out.
The tawdry drama of Kwame Kilpatrick, the once-promising 38-year-old mayor of the nation's 11th largest city, ended in a wood-paneled courtroom when, after months of defiant claims of innocence, a subdued Kilpatrick meekly pleaded guilty to reduced felony charges. He agreed to serve four months in jail and pay up to $1-million in restitution.
"I lied under oath," Kilpatrick told the court, conceding what growing numbers of Detroit residents have suspected for months — that he covered up an affair with his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, as part of a lawsuit settlement that cost the city $8.4-million.
Kilpatrick, the hip-hop mayor first elected amid great fanfare in 2001, is scheduled to leave office no later than Sept. 18. But in a city whose residents are well aware of the steamy details of text messages between Kilpatrick and Beatty, widely reported in the media, the mayor is already history.
"I think there is a giant sense of relief in the city and the entire state over the events of today," said Larry Dubin, a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. "This is like opening up an artery and permitting the blood to flow again for the city."
Kilpatrick will be succeeded by Ken Cockrel Jr., 42, the City Council president and one of five council members who voted in May to begin ouster proceedings against the mayor. Cockrel, who will serve until a special election is held, said it was "a very sad day for the city of Detroit, but I think we also have to recognize it's also a day of hope and renewal. … Today we may be grieving, but tomorrow we must come together."
Already saddled with high unemployment, poor schools and a shrinking population, Detroit was embarrassed by the scandal, and efforts to boost the city's economy, championed by Kilpatrick for years, were in limbo.
Kilpatrick also will lose his license to practice law and cannot run for any elected office for five years.