Favoritism the coin of the realm during Kilpatrick's reign

Favoritism the coin of the realm during Kilpatrick's reign of error

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By M.L. Elrick
Fox 2 Investigative Reporter

(WJBK) -- Now here's a comforting thought: Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wasn't corrupt; he was just vindictive.

At least that's the impression I got Thursday from the defense's cross-examination of contractor Tony Soave.

The defenders worked so hard to undermine Soave's claim that Kilpatrick told him to hire Bobby Ferguson that they all-but conceded that Hizzoner was trying to stop Soave from using Charlie Williams as a subcontractor. The likely reason? Williams supported Gil Hill, Kilpatrick's mayoral opponent in 2001.

If true, this would be consistent with a complaint I heard regularly during the Kilpatrick Reign of Error (2002-2008).

Contractors and others who didn't support Team Kilpatrick often told me they couldn't get city work. One contractor told me he had to move out of state to stay in business. And a friend of mine who worked for the city said his department head -- a Kilpatrick frat buddy -- announced one day that he was a "Kilpatrick guy" and that it would be a good idea for supporters of Freman Hendrix to keep their views to themselves. (Hendrix ran against Kilpatrick in 2005.) Neither Ferguson attorney Mike Rataj nor Kilpatrick attorney Harold Gurewitz challenged Soave's testimony that Kilpatrick came to see him after he was elected mayor to ask Soave why he didn't support him. (Soave -- who writes plenty o' campaign checks -- backed Hill.) Instead, the legal eagles concentrated on Soave's claim that when he went to see Kilpatrick in the mayor's office around April 2003 to find out why he was holding up a $50 million contract, "He told me I had the wrong subcontractor.  I asked him, 'What's the right one?' He told me Ferguson was the right one."

When prosecutor Michael Bullotta asked him, "What did you tell him when he said you had the wrong subcontractor," Soave answered: "I told him okay, I'll make a change."

And change he did, dumping long-time friend Williams and his fledgling firm for Ferguson Enterprises.

Rataj got Soave to acknowledge that politicians have favorite contractors.

"It's normal, isn't it?" Rataj asked, adding, "That's the way of the world."

He then focused on trying to get Soave to agree that Kilpatrick couldn't have held up the contract because it was awaiting Detroit City Council approval. (And he rightly pointed out that then, as now, they rarely do the mayor's bidding.) Gurewitz, the epitome of the poised and elegant barrister, worked so hard trying to get Soave to abandon his claim that he became frustrated at the fruitlessness of the enterprise and abruptly changed subjects. He never even bothered to address the broader notion that, whether or not Hizzoner mentioned Ferguson by name, the city's chief executive was essentially exercising veto power over who an independent, private businessman could hire.

Gurewitz will go back at Soave Friday, so I may be a bit premature here (but ONLY here!). But after Soave insisted that Kilpatrick mentioned Ferguson -- telling Gurewitz, "you don't want to hear it. I keep on telling you that's the way it went," -- an exasperated Gurewitz moved on to discuss Soave's socializing with Kilpatrick.

So, as of this writing, the only aspect of Soave's $50 million meeting with Kilpatrick that has not been challenged is that the mayor steered Soave away from a contractor who did not have the mayoral seal of approval.

I don't know how you feel about that, but public officials playing favorites doesn't sound like a great idea to me -- whether it's legal or not.

In any case, at this point I think Kilpatrick's attorneys will settle for seeing Hizzoner convicted in the court of public opinion of being an unethical mayor -- as long as the folks in federal court don't convict him of being a corrupt mayor.

Follow M.L. Elrick's coverage of the Kilpatrick & Co. trial daily on FOX 2 and at www.myfoxdetroit.com. Contact him at ml.elrick@foxtv.com or via Twitter (@elrick) or Facebook. And catch him every Friday morning around 7:15 a.m. on Drew & Mike on WRIF, 101.1 FM. He is co-author of "The Kwame Sutra: Musings on Lust, Life and Leadership from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick," available at www.kwamesutra.com. A portion of sales benefit the Eagle Sports Club and Soar Tutoring. Learn more at www.eaglesports.com.

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