Kwame Kilpatrick, the mayor of Detroit, is caught up in a maelstrom of legal troubles. Accused of firing several police officers because they wouldn’t help cover up his affair with a one of his employees, he denied the affair until text messages revealed his deceit. He has been charged by the Wayne County prosecutor with several felonies, but he refuses to step down. He was just jailed for violating the terms of his bond, and today is being charged with two felony counts of assaulting a police officer. Still he denies all wrongdoing and refuses to resign. It’s hard to imagine that the city is being well run while its mayor is in and out of jail, but Kilpatrick is clearly more interested in his name than in the city he was elected to lead. Does Mayor Kilpatrick have no sense of decency?
But really, Kilpatrick is just an example of a growing trend among corrupt politicians: pretend it isn’t happening, totally reject all claims, and continue your denials until the day you’re in prison.
Senator Larry Craig, so amusingly charged with soliciting gay sex in an airport bathroom, has categorically denied that was his intent, and his famous “wide stance” excuse became the butt (I couldn’t resist) of much humor on the late night shows.
The FBI found $90,000 in marked bills in the refrigerator of Congressman William Jefferson, but he denies all wrongdoing and refuses to resign. Senator Ted Stevens was just indicted for failing to disclose oil company gifts. He claims complete innocence and is planning his reelection campaign. Congressman John Doolittle (what a great name for a modern congressman) was implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandal and admits paying his wife a 15% commission on all campaign contributions, but he denies any mendacity and refused to resign, choosing instead to retire at the end of his term.
Gavin Newsom, the mayor here in San Francisco, had an affair with his best friend’s wife, at a time when both the friend and the wife were on Gavin’s payroll. Mayor Newsom at least admitted the affair, but did so using the popular new excuse of addiction, and immediately went into treatment. There was no talk of him resigning, and in fact Mayor Newsom is gearing up a run for Governor.
The common theme in all these examples is the refusal to resign for the good of the office and its constituency. These politicians declined to admit or take responsibility for their actions and the impact those actions could have. They were all elected to serve, but ultimately they put their own need (to claim innocence) above the need (for effective representation) of the people who elected them. Whatever happened to admitting wrongdoing? It’s not like these guys are going to get away with it; if the accusations are true, they will be convicted and go to jail. But honestly, I don’t care if they keep denying – just get out of office so that somebody effective can come in and serve the public.
Implications? These politicians are really part of a broader evasion of responsibility, which I will have to write about later. But for now, the main beneficiaries of this trend are media companies. If Mayor Kilpatrick and Senator Craig would do the right thing and resign, then media companies (and blogs!) wouldn’t be able to milk the stories for weeks on end.