He's weathered scandals before, but Detroit Mayor Coleman Young has encountered none more damaging than the embezzlement indictment that toppled his police chief.
Young, 72, who defeated a police commissioner in 1973 to become Detroit's first black mayor, built his political career on reforming a Police Department many blacks considered a hostile occupation force.But last week's federal indictments, which accused Chief William Hart and a former deputy on charges of stealing $2.6 million from a secret police fund, shake the foundations of Young's political machine, political analysts said.
"It hits him at his most sensitive point," said Morrie Gleisher, a political consultant and longtime Young backer who's estranged from the man he helped elect more than 17 years ago. "This has wounded him terribly."
Gleisher, who ran the advertising campaign in Young's first mayoral race, said the Police Department has been "a personal tool of his. . . . He is going to have a hard time restoring confidence in it."
During the 18-month probe, the Young administration waged a war of words with federal investigators. And U.S. Attorney Stephen Markman said Young's help was "tepid at best" and the mayor's staff seemed more intent on impeding federal agents than finding the missing money.
In turn, Young accused the FBI and Markman of gun ning for him as part of a war on black leaders.
The probe found no evidence to charge Young with a crime, Markman said.
When Young first ran for mayor, relations between the Police Department and the city's blacks were highly polarized, said political scientist Wilbur Rich of Wayne State University.
The department used rough, often deadly tactics in handling crimes in black neighborhoods, said Rich, author of the 1989 book "Coleman Young and Detroit Politics." Fewer than one in five of its officers were black.
Young disbanded the hated STRESS decoy program, which stood for "stop the robberies, enjoy safe streets" and had produced scores of shootings of black suspects. He also reined in police brutality and speeded up the hiring of blacks until they made up more than half the 4,400-strong force.
In 1976, he named Hart as Detroit's first black police chief.
Rich said Young's overwhelming popular support among blacks, who now make up more than 70 percent of Detroit's 1 million residents, coupled with the expanded powers he gained under a new city charter, planted the seeds of trouble.
Young enjoyed a near monopoly of political power in the city, with little challenge from an ineffectual City Council, and that power led to abuses, Rich said.