I try to keep in touch weekly with the news from back where I call home: Detroit. The other day, while checking the news online, I saw an article about the former mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick. He was filing an appeal to get his jail sentence for perjury overturned because he felt it was unconstitutional and excessive. Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 15 years in prison for lying under oath about an affair that he had with one of his aides (even though there was proof on his city-issued cell phone).
This whole Kwame Kilpatrick “Sex, Text, and Lies” scandal got me thinking about the moral implications of being a mayor. From the time one takes the oath of mayor until the moment they leave office, they do not represent only themselves. They take on the spirit of the city (and any publicity that goes along with it). I know the last sentence sounds a bit corny, but if it really is, then why do mayors go to jail for breaching the trust of the people? The moral issue at hand revolves around breaking the spirit of the city. They have corrupted what the city was, and have tarnished the name of the city through illegal acts.
Some may argue that what one does on his or her cell phone is private and that it is not necessary to make it public knowledge. This fact only holds true if the person using the cell phone actually owns the phone. If, however, the phone is owned by the city to be used by the Mayor for official business, then the phone records are owned by the city and more importantly the people of that city. Those people are entitled to know what their mayor is doing with a publicly provided phone.
In Kwame Kilpatrick’s case, he used a city provided cell-phone and texted his aide with suggestive messages as to the whereabouts of their affair. His affair is a private issue, but that still doesn’t justify his actions of lying about the fact under oath. As Mayor, he swore to an oath that included serving the public good and upholding truth. His affair becomes public business when it interferes with the workings of the city and occurs on public time (or on public property, i.e texting on a city phone).
One does not have to set aside all the positive things that Kwame Kilpatrick did for Detroit (e.g infused youthfulness into the mayoral office, got more youth involved in the political process, and facilitated the Super Bowl XL venue in Detroit) in order to acknowledge that he made not only a major political misstep, but also a huge personal foul. Extra-marital affairs break down families and destroy trust.
I think something is to be learned not only from Kilpatrick’s political mess, but also from his personal misgivings. One can only become mayor when they are ready to balance his or her’s professional life with his or her’s personal life. Being a mayor is tough on two grounds: it makes one vulnerable to the public and it requires one to think of his or her’s private life separately from his or her’s public career. Of course, the latter is true of anyone in any job. Once personal and public life (e.g a job) become intertwined, then one’s priorities can become out of line. Keeping priorities straight is even harder to accomplish if any news station tries to bring the first family into the public eye (as was Kilpatrick’s case). The lines did indeed become blurred in his case, but one has to be strong enough to know the boundaries of his life and to act responsibly. When one takes a marriage vow, they commit to the other person as well as to any children that they have together. The above doesn’t simply mean that one provides enough financial protection for one’s family, but one also has to provide moral support and personal restraint to urges of personal satisfaction (e.g extra-marital affairs). If these extra urges cannot be controlled, then one has no business taking on the position as a city role model where they are put under even more pressure from the public eye. Above all else, one should not focus merely on political aspirations when running for mayor, but should also think about those who will be affected by any choices that one makes when in the public eye.