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Detroit's Reaction To Trump Granting Clemency To Former Mayor Kilpatrick


Tucked into that long list of pardons and commutations granted by Donald Trump in the last days of his presidency was the name Kwame Kilpatrick. Unlike a lot of big names on that list, Kilpatrick is not a longtime GOP booster or a Trump associate. He is the former mayor of Detroit, a Democrat convicted in 2013 on 24 counts of racketeering, extortion, bribery and fraud. He had 20 years left in his sentence, which he was serving in a federal prison in Louisiana. He's got a complicated legacy in Detroit, and to talk about it, we are joined by Stephen Henderson, host of "Detroit Today" on member station WDET. Good to have you back.

STEPHEN HENDERSON, BYLINE: Ari, great to be here.

SHAPIRO: So Kilpatrick was this dynamic, young leader when he was elected mayor in 2002. He was a source of energy in a city that felt a little beaten down at that point. But by 2008, he had resigned. Explain briefly what happened to him.

HENDERSON: Well, the mayor was caught in a rather spectacular lie, a perjury that he was prosecuted for by state prosecutors. When he pled guilty to that crime, as well as obstruction of justice, it was pretty clear he could no longer serve as the leader for our city, and so he resigned. And then he went on, of course, to face those massive federal charges as well.

SHAPIRO: And he left office more than a decade ago. Tell us about the imprint that he and his scandals have left on the city.

HENDERSON: Well, I mean, it really is a story of two stories - one, the glorious story of a native son who grew up to become a politician and represent his hometown and represent the majority population of that hometown, the African American population here that came to power as he and I were young people in this city. And then the second story is of his downfall because of his own personal failings that bled over into this rather spectacular array of crimes, federal crimes, that he was prosecuted for. He was convicted on 24 counts of racketeering and sentenced to 28 years in prison.

SHAPIRO: And so what's the reaction in Detroit been these last couple days to President Trump's decision to commute his sentence, the fact that he's out of prison now?

HENDERSON: Well, I think you have to understand that Kwame Kilpatrick, because of who he is, still has an incredible emotional hold on us as Detroiters because he is a native son, because he was such a popular and effective mayor. And so he's been out of office, as you point out, for 12 years, but he's still very much front of mind for so many Detroiters. And so what I've been hearing from people is relief that he will not spend the rest of his adult life, really, in prison, people rejoicing that he's getting out, people putting it in the context of the racial inequalities that exist in our justice system and saying he was unfairly sentenced for things that he did, and it's a good thing now that he's being given this commutation.

SHAPIRO: Knowing his story as well as you do, do you expect he'll fade into the background now or have another chapter?

HENDERSON: (Laughter) Oh, no. Kwame Kilpatrick fade into the background - I can't imagine that. I think the question is what he decides to do with this new opportunity to build a second life for himself. And I think we'll learn pretty soon what he has in store.

SHAPIRO: Stephen Henderson, host of "Detroit Today" on member station WDET, great to talk to you.

HENDERSON: Great to talk to you as well, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEU!'S "WEISSENSEE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.