Kwame Kilpatrick and 5 Corrupt Black Mayors
To say he has fallen from grace is an understatement.
Recently, Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in prison for corruption. The former Detroit mayor was convicted on two dozen counts that included charges of racketeering and extortion. While this may be the most severe punishment that a city official has received, it’s certainly not the first. While there are dozens of Black mayors who work tirelessly on behalf of the voters, there have been a handful who have embarrassed themselves and their communities. Here are a few corrupt Black mayors we wish we could forget.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (2002—2008)– Kilpatrick came from a political family. His mother Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, was a career politician representing Detroit in the Michigan State House and the U.S House of Representatives. Known as the “hip hop mayor” because of his propensity to use rap lyrics to woo young voters, Kilpatrick’s administration was plagued with problems from the beginning, starting with an alleged party involving strippers held at the city-owned mayor’s mansion. Police officers claim they were fired for investigating the mayor’s misconduct. This led to a text messaging scandal between him and chief of staff Christine Beatty. It came out that the two had an affair together, though both were married. The text messages were uncovered during a whistleblower trial that led to an $8.4 million settlement to the officers. He was criticized for using city funds to lease a car for his family and used his city-issued credit card to charge spa massages, extravagant dining, and expensive wines. He paid back $9,000 of the $210,000 bill. After almost seven years in office, Kilpatrick resigned. Time Magazine named him the Worst Mayor in America. During his trial, prosecutors accused Kilpatrick of being one of the accelerating forces that led Detroit into bankruptcy.
Newark Mayor Sharpe James (1986-2006) – James served four terms as mayor. He also served as State Senator for the 29th Legislative District from 1999-2008. He was responsible for attracting high profile developments to Newark, a city that had been ravaged by race riots and poverty in the 1960s and 1970s. He oversaw the completion of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the relocation of the New Jersey Devils to the City of Newark, and the Prudential Center, which is the newest arena in the Newark metropolitan area. But, those weren’t the only properties that he redeveloped. In 2008, he was convicted of five counts of fraud for selling nine city lots to his mistress below market rate. She resold them for hundreds of thousands of dollars and made a huge profit. After 18 months in prison, he was released in April of 2010.
Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry (1979—1991 and 1995—1999) – Barry’s strong support for Black-owned businesses and his government hiring programs will go down in history. But unfortunately, so too will his crack addiction. He was videotaped smoking crack cocaine and arrested by FBI officials on drug charges. He did not seek to be re-elected and served six months in a federal prison. After his release, however, he was elected to the D.C. City Council in 1992 and ultimately returned to the mayoralty in 1994, serving from 1995 to 1999. It seems he’s kicked the drug habit and has worked for the D.C. City Council since 2005.
Trenton Mayor Tony Mack (2010—2014) – Last year Mack was arrested at his home on extortion and bribery charges. While he hasn’t been convicted yet, prosecutors say he received bribes to sell city property at a fraction of its value. Honestly, he never really had a chance. An investigation on his administration started two months after he took office. Mack was released on bail and denies all claims. His trial date is next January and he continues to run the city while under indictment.
Baltimore Mayor Sheila Ann Dixon (2007—2010) Born and raised in West Baltimore, Dixon was indicted on 12 felony and misdemeanor counts, including perjury, theft, and misconduct. The charges stem partly from perjury and incidents in which she allegedly stole gift cards intended for the poor, which she used to purchase a fur coat and electronics. She was only found guilty of one count of misappropriation of funds. She resigned from office as a part of a plea deal that did not result in a conviction. Although she agreed to never run for office again in Maryland, the plea deal allowed her to keep her $83,000 pension.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (2002 – 2010) Nagin is best known for managing the fall-out before, during and after Hurricane Katrina. While some commended him for a job well done and for making sure that African Americans were not permanently displaced as the city rebuilt, others said his actions were racially divisive. Unfortunately, Nagin was indicted on 21 corruption charges, including wire fraud, bribery, and money laundering related to his alleged dealings with two troubled city vendors following the disaster. He is accused of allegedly receiving kickbacks, possibly his family’s vacations to Hawaii, in return for government contracts. He pleaded not guilty and his trial will commence this month.