DETROIT – Amid calls for his resignation over racy text messages to a top aide, a chastened Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick headed to church Wednesday to set about salvaging his image with a televised address.
Officials in his administration have scoffed at the idea of Kilpatrick resigning during the speech, his first public comments since the scandal broke.
What he says, however, and how people receive it likely will go a long way in defining his legacy, said Fredrick Harris, director of Columbia University's Center on African American Politics and Society.
Kilpatrick appears to be taking his case to the black church, just as President Clinton and former Washington Mayor Marion Berry did after their peccadilloes became public, Harris said.
"Many voters, particularly black voters, are very sympathetic to the idea of redemption," he said. "You confess your sins and ask constituents for forgiveness. We see this theme of religious redemption as a way to set aside the transgression."
Kilpatrick, 37, is in his second term and could run again next year. He has been in seclusion since a Detroit Free Press report last week of racy text messages from 2002 and 2003 found on the city-issued pager of longtime friend and Chief Of Staff Christine Beatty.
The mayor's only public response has been a statement acknowledging he and his wife had worked through what he called "painful issues" and asking for privacy following the report on the "profoundly embarrassing" messages.
Kilpatrick was to break his silence with a televised address Wednesday night from his family's church, Greater Emmanuel Institutional Church of God in Christ. The mayor's office said no audience and no reporters or photographers, save for a lone TV camera, would be allowed in the building.
A rally organized by the mayor's supporters and a second by union leaders calling for Kilpatrick's resignation were planned Wednesday afternoon outside the mayor's office.
The text messages are central to a prosecutor's investigation into whether Kilpatrick and Beatty lied under oath during a whistle-blower's lawsuit last summer in which both denied having a physical relationship.
The 14,000 messages examined by the newspaper reveal flirty and sometimes sexually explicit dialogue between Kilpatrick and Beatty.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced the investigation last Friday, one day after the Free Press report. A conviction of lying under oath can bring up to 15 years' imprisonment.
Beatty submitted a letter of resignation Monday, effective Feb. 8.
Controversy has surrounded Kilpatrick since his 2001 election as mayor.
Embraced by many Detroit residents for his boldness and confidence, Kilpatrick, then 31, embodied the new black politician and wore a diamond stud earring that helped foster his unofficial title as "Hip-Hop Mayor."
His first four years were marred by use of his city-issued credit card for expensive travel, the city's lease of a luxury Lincoln Navigator for his wife and unsubstantiated allegations of a wild party involving his security team and strippers at the mayor's mansion.
At the start of his second term, an older, wiser Kilpatrick vowed to not make the same mistakes and announced a residential redevelopment along Detroit's dormant riverfront, a successful Super Bowl that shined a light on the city's renewal efforts and other improvements.
All that might not be enough to save him, particularly if the criminal investigation gains steam, said Tracy Westen, vice chair and CEO of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.
"The problem is the allegation of lying under oath," Westen said. "That will have to be sorted out legally. It's not a matter of him saying 'Let's get on with things."'