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Text messages unravel denials of staff affair by Detroit mayor

His top aide quits after romantic exchanges are published. They had testified in a suit that cost city millions.

January 29, 2008|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — Five months ago, Detroit Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick and chief of staff Christine Beatty testified that they did not have a romantic relationship. They continued to deny a relationship out of court as well, as they had for several years.

But that was before the Detroit Free Press published a cache of text messages between the two, many of them flirtatious or sexual, and others referring to meetings in hotels.

On Monday, Beatty resigned her post, saying she could "no longer effectively carry out the duties of chief of staff."

The resignation came days after a county prosecutor opened an investigation into whether Kilpatrick and Beatty committed perjury when they concealed their affair during testimony last summer.

Two City Council members demanded an internal investigation into the pair's relationship, which has outraged voters and led to calls for Kilpatrick's resignation. The council is also looking at the city charter to determine whether he could be forced from office.

One of their chief concerns: whether the 37-year-old mayor intentionally misled the City Council into approving an $8.4-million settlement between the city and three former police officers. The men said they unfairly lost their jobs because they were looking into potential wrongdoing by the mayor's security team, which could have exposed the intimate relationship.

The political scandal has stunned Motor City, which has lost more population in the last half-century than any other city in the country, has a poverty rate that hovers around 30%, and is routinely ranked by the U.S. Census Bureau as one of America's most impoverished urban centers.

"This is a city whose resources are already limited," said John Riehl, who heads up the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 207, one of the groups calling for the mayor to step down. "Is it really any surprise that people are furious?"

Kilpatrick, who is married and has three children, issued a brief statement to reporters. "These 5- and 6-year-old text messages reflect a very difficult period in my personal life," he said. "It is profoundly embarrassing to have these extremely private messages now displayed in such a public manner. My wife and I worked our way through these intensely personal issues years ago."

In her resignation letter, Beatty -- a 37-year-old mother of two who was married at the time of the romance -- said she regretted "the devastation that the recent reports have caused to the citizens of Detroit" and to the mayor's family and her own co-workers, family and friends.

Neither their attorneys nor Kilpatrick's family -- including his mother, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) -- returned calls for comment Monday.

It has been a rocky political tenure for the man once dubbed "America's hip-hop mayor."

The two-term mayor, who previously worked as a teacher and served in the state Legislature, won points early in his term for reorganizing the city's Police Department and pushing for urban renewal in the downtown area: The mortgage firm Quicken Loans has announced plans to move an estimated 4,000 workers from a Detroit suburb to downtown, and two new casino resorts opened there late last year, creating new service jobs.

But such gains often were overshadowed by Kilpatrick's clashes with Detroit's established political guard, and media reports of questionable charges on a city credit card and allegations that he used city funds to lease a Lincoln Navigator for his family.

Kilpatrick and Beatty have known one another since high school, and worked closely together during his successful 2001 mayoral bid.

The issue of a romantic relationship came up in court last year, when each one was questioned under oath by a lawyer for two of the former police officers -- Deputy Chief Gary Brown, who worked in police internal affairs, and Officer Harold Nelthrope, a member of the mayor's police security team. Kilpatrick and Beatty denied the affair.

When a jury ruled against the city in the case, Kilpatrick initially vowed to appeal the decision.

But Kilpatrick later approved a settlement in the case, paying almost $9 million total to the two officers and a former police bodyguard who had sued separately, and in legal costs.

The affair was first reported in the Detroit Free Press last week, after a pair of investigative reporters obtained almost 14,000 text messages sent from, and received by, Beatty's city-owned pager in 2002 and 2003.

The Free Press also reported that Kilpatrick allegedly used city funds to cover personal travel expenses with Beatty, including one trip to Denver, and had discussed how to arrange rendezvous to resorts in Houston and hotels in West Virginia.

In one exchange dated Oct. 7, 2002, Beatty reportedly sent the mayor a late-night note: "I'm feeling like I want another night like the most recent Saturday at the Residence Inn! You made me feel so damn good that night."

Nine days later, Kilpatrick sent Beatty a message that read, "I've been dreaming all day about having you all to myself for 3 days . . . relaxing, laughing, talking, sleeping and making love."

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who learned about the affair from the newspaper's reporting, announced the day the story was published that her office was launching an investigation.

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