From then until now: A look at Detroit's corrupt political past - New York News

From then until now: A look at Detroit's corrupt political past

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Richard Reading, aka "Double Dip Dick," the 59th mayor of Detroit Richard Reading, aka "Double Dip Dick," the 59th mayor of Detroit
DETROIT (WJBK) -

A lot of you are probably happy that disgraced Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is going to spend most of his life in federal prison. I don't like people that steal from me and my children either.

A lot of you probably think that Detroit's corruption started "40 years ago" -- that's code for Coleman A. Young, Detroit's first black mayor and a Democrat. But what if I told you it is not just a Democrat thing? It's not just a black thing. It is also a white thing, a Republican thing. That it's our thing.

Over the past 80 years, five Detroit mayors and four county executives have either been sent to prison, were the subjects of federal probes, or were removed from office.

It's true. And so here it is: a primer on Detroit municipal corruption.

The year was 1929, Republican Charles E. Bowles was elected mayor of Detroit after running on the law and order platform. Prohibition was in full bloom and a mafia gang war raged. With ties the Klu Klux Klan and the Purple Gang, Bowles did little to stop it. Blood flowed in the streets. Bodies stacked up like cord wood. A successful recall campaign was launched and Bowles was removed from office after just six months.

On the night of his removal, Jerry Buckley, a popular radio show host who bitterly fought for Bowles' removal, was shot dead from the hotel lobby from where he broadcast.

Kilpatrick isn't even the biggest corruption scandal to rock Detroit.

In 1939, a woman named Janet McDonald dressed her 11-year-old daughter Pearl in a pink party dress and murdered her before killing herself. She left behind letters addressed to the newspapers, charging that her boyfriend was a bag man for the mob. The payoffs to top city officials were detailed. Those letters left to the indictment of 135 people, among them Republican Mayor Richard Reading, who was known as "Double Dip Dick" because he also demanded kickbacks for his son. He was convicted in 1942 of conspiring to take bribes from Detroit's underworld. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

County prosecutor Duncan McCray was also convicted of accepting bribes from organized crime, as was county sheriff Thomas Wilcox, a long and lanky man who sported a diamond encrusted badge paid for by involuntary contributions from staff members. Also sent to prison were two county auditors, a precursor to the Wayne County executive who sold meat and cleaning solvent contracts to the highest bidder.

Louis Miriani was the last Republican mayor of Detroit, serving from 1957-62. Called the "do-nothing mayor," he liked to invest in savings bonds and that's how the IRS caught him with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth in a family safe. He was convicted of tax invasion committed while he served as mayor unable to explain how he earned $250,000 on a $25,000 a year salary. He served 10 months in federal prison.

Coleman A. Young was a Democrat and Detroit's first black mayor. In office for 20 years from 1974 to 1994, Young is the city's longest serving mayor. He declined to run for a sixth term, citing declining health. But FBI wiretaps and federal convictions of Young's chief of police and a business associate over stolen drug money and his links to a company that sold South African rands did little to help Young's re-election chances.

Livonia Democrat Ed McNamara was the Wayne County executive from 1987 to 2002. His political machine played a significant role in the election of Kwame Kilpatrick in 2001. In fact, Kilpatrick's father Bernard was a major McNamara aide. But Big Mac is most remembered for the billion dollar expansion of Metropolitan Airport and the federal investigation that ensued. A prominent aide was convicted for taking kick backs, but the probe ended with McNamara's death in 2006.

McNamara was followed into office by fellow Livonia Democrat Bob Ficano. The subject of both a federal and county corruption probe, Ficano has doled out sweetheart pensions even as the pension fund has collapsed. With the county on the verge of bankruptcy, Ficano's failed super jail project will most likely be bulldozed costing the taxpayers more than $400 million. The FBI is investigating a pay-to-play between Ficano and contractors and a one-man grand jury is considering charges of fraud, misconduct and neglect of duty in connection with the jail. Incredibly, Ficano says he'll run for re-election.

So as I said, corruption is neither black nor white, Democrat nor Republican. It's all of it.

It's politics.

It's Detroit.

It's America.

And it's wrong.

If Kwame Kilpatrick can do any good for society, let it be this: you serve the public, you don't steal.

It's over. Or is it?

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