During his nearly seven-year stint as mayor of Detroit, there was little about Kwame M. Kilpatrick that was not big. His 6-foot-4 frame. His “hip-hop mayor” persona and the 1 1/2-carat diamond that pierced his ear. His wide appeal made him, at the age of 31, the youngest person ever to lead the city.
Now, four years since he left office, the criminal charges that Kilpatrick will face when his federal trial begins with jury selection Thursday are no exception in size: more than 30 counts that include racketeering, bribery and fraud during his time in public office.
Kilpatrick, 42, was once considered a rising star in the Democratic Party.
His long-awaited trial, expected to last four months, is the most recent chapter in a series of controversies that plagued his tenure as mayor and ended his promising political career.
The federal charges, filed in 2010, carry far greater stakes than did his previous troubles — up to 30 years in prison — and continue a saga for many in Detroit whose expectations for him once soared. Meanwhile, he has maintained his innocence.
“I know that there are some people in this community who had hopes, dreams and incredible admiration for me and what we were doing in the city at that time,” Kilpatrick told the Detroit chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists in August.
Politics seemed always in sight for Kilpatrick, who as a young child dreamed of living in Detroit’s mayoral mansion. His mother, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, was a seven-term congresswoman and a chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus; her career was seen as a casualty of her son’s troubles when she lost re-election in 2010.
Kwame Kilpatrick was 26 years old when he joined the Michigan Legislature in 1996. When he was elected mayor of Detroit in 2001, many hoped that he would lead the economically depressed city toward revival.
He landed speaking rolls at the Democratic National Convention in 2000 and 2004. Some talked about him as a future senator or vice-presidential choice, said Steve Hood, a political consultant in Detroit whose brother, Nicholas Hood III, ran against Kilpatrick in his first mayoral race.
“They bought into the whole package,” he said of voters’ faith in Kilpatrick back then. “They thought the sky was the limit.”
But many of Kilpatrick’s achievements were overshadowed by scandal and the perception by some that a collision of youth and power had sent his career spiraling.