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by Sean Kosofsky
I have decided to not weigh in publicly on the political situation surrounding Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. I was born in Detroit. I work in Detroit and spend my money in Detroit and consider myself deeply invested in the future of the City. Despite my political views, I don’t have anything new to offer readers of Between The Lines on the matter. I will, however, comment on Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.
Millions of people around the country are aware of the current mess surrounding some of our city leaders. Some are disappointed that the career of another promising young African-American leader may soon be over. Others are more interested in transparency and clean government – guided only by the drive to clean up cronyism that has plagued politics (especially Detroit politics). Still others are drawn by the lurid details of scandalous text messages, claiming the moral high ground on the issue of fidelity and insisting that elected leaders should be held to a higher standard.
But on Monday morning a clarion voice emerged that was broadcast all over the country. Kym Worthy has been underestimated for years. She is an African-American woman in law enforcement and one of the top elected officials in the county. She also happens to be up for election this year, when this political football fell in her lap. The day the text messages scandal broke she had enough to deal with, but immediately all eyes were on her since allegations of criminal behavior were swarming around the story that news stations seemed to marginalize, instead focusing on the sex-related details.
At Triangle Foundation, we have worked with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office for over sixteen years. Former Prosecutor John O’Hair had a good reputation on our issues, but his successor Mike Duggan was a major disappointment, especially on anti-gay profiling. You may remember that the Detroit Free Press published a leaked memo from Duggan’s office detailing that sting operations in Wayne County had raised 2.4 million dollars which would be used to give all the assistant prosecutors a raise.
Then came Kym Worthy. She had a reputation for fairness and intelligence. This past Monday she took one of the most courageous steps of her career. As she announced charges against Mayor Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff Christine Beatty, she not only served as a beacon to people across Detroit and Michigan, but also across the country. She used her remarks as a civics lesson and as a public finger wagging. Here is an excerpt of her remarks, making it very clear how she is handling this delicate situation:
“For the men and women in this office doing things right trumped doing things fast and easy every time. We serve you with independent thought, unbossed and unbought. We have taken orders and instructions from no one. The only body that has told us what to do is the body of law. We started out with clean slates and open minds. We have been careful, deliberate, thoughtful and analytical. Our decision is well-reasoned supported by the evidence and autonomous.”
And here she sets the record straight about what the charges are really about:
“Let me be very, very clear. This was not an investigation focused on lying about sex. Gary Brown, Harold Nelthrope and Walter Harris, their lives were forever changed. They were ruined financially and their reputations were completely destroyed because they chose to be dutiful police officers. The public trust was violated. This investigation is whether public dollars were used unlawfully …”
The most impressive moment was her declaration that witnesses are a vital part of the criminal justice system and our democracy. Without witnesses, and without witnesses telling the truth, our legal system would crumble before our eyes. She declared that in order for her office to convince witnesses to step forward and put their lives on the line to put away violent criminals she must send a message that other witnesses cannot get away with telling lies.
Out of all this mess and disappointment one woman filled the void of moral leadership and in under twenty minutes restored our confidence that Detroit and Wayne County politics are accountable on some level. Regardless of the outcome, Kym Worthy made me very proud of Detroit and Michigan. I hope it rubs off.
Sean Kosofsky is the Director of Policy for Triangle Foundation, Michigan’s leading LGBT civil rights group.