Kilpatrick is still a son of privilege

e is thinner now, looking healthier and more trim than he ever did as mayor. Without the physical bulk, winks to the courtroom, or overt displays of bravado, Kwame Kilpatrick testified Monday in U.S. District Court as an everyman overwhelmed by newfangled technology in his office and home.

But even this smaller and quieter ex-mayor — in shirt-sleeves and tie, no jacket — oozed traces of entitlement: the sense of specialness that enables him to shrug off city legal policies as trivial, and the lawsuit in which he is testifying as “frivolous.”

He was being questioned by lawyer Norman Yatooma in a hearing to find out what happened to Kilpatrick’s e-mails and, perhaps, to Tamara Greene — the stripper who was killed in 2003, a year after the fabled Manoogian Mansion party that remains legend, not fact. Greene, it is claimed, danced at the party as “Strawberry.”

In this case, the paper trail is likely electronic, and Yatooma is still on the hunt. The e-mails, though, are missing. Kilpatrick dodged most of the questions regarding his e-mail habits through a succession of “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” answers.

“Unfortunately, I’m not a computer guy,” Kilpatrick testified, his voice mostly even and calm, explaining why he rarely used his home computer, and never touched his city-issued Toshiba laptop.

“I don’t preserve (e-mails). I don’t back up.”

He also said he couldn’t save an e-mail to a floppy disk or a folder or a CD. He wore his tech ignorance as a badge of privilege, like a movie star who doesn’t carry cash, or an affluent homemaker who doesn’t do floors.

The subject of the hearing in the wrongful death lawsuit was supposed to be confined to missing e-mails. But Kilpatrick looms large even when he’s trying to play small, and he proved better at communicating a powerful sense of self than at supplying concrete information about e-mails that may or may not have existed.

This is the man whose mother, then a congresswoman, reminded him in a text message of his specialness: “You are chosen,” she wrote.

On the stand, asked whether his behavior changed after the Greene lawsuit was filed in 2005, Kilpatrick described the suit as “frivolous” and said, “It wasn’t one of the things that would have been high” on his priority list.

“It never was important to anything that we did in our world,” he added.

Yatooma, in a blazing red tie and puffy pocket scarf of red silk, did not blanche. Kilpatrick’s testimony suggested that policies and laws governing evidence didn’t rank high in his mind, at any time. He repeatedly said that he believed the city’s legal and information technology departments were responsible for complying with those laws.

Yatooma questioned the former mayor about how and when he deleted, or caused to delete, or convinced others to delete his e-mails after taking office. Kilpatrick acknowledged no routines about his usage or deletion habits. At the noon break, Kilpatrick told his lawyer, James C. Thomas, “They gave me 70 dead horses, and I beat all of them.”

He displayed affection for “personal e-mails,” from children and family members. Work e-mails he described with marked disdain. Like the Greene lawsuit itself, he couldn’t quite be bothered even thinking about them, or remembering if he got one or a hundred of them a day.

Those who know him — and who ranked high enough, one may infer — knew to reach him by text-pager. “I didn’t do e-mails,” he said. Everyone knew that “if you want to get to me, you have to go through the text pager.”

Kwame Kilpatrick’s world is its own universe, with rules known and understood by the initiated, those chosen by him. Even as he tried to say nothing, he told the rest of us that much.

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