Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from May 7, 2009

He Hart My Mug

I wonder what Bill Hart did with my coffee mug.

All this talk of Detroit politics, in the glow of the special mayoral election held on Tuesday because of Kwame Kilpatrick's ousting, got me to thinking of other disgraced high profile types the city has known.

I sat across from Police Chief William Hart in October, 1989, and the man seemed awfully stiff, I recall.

Hart was the first African-American police chief in Detroit, and I was getting ready to interview him on a local cable TV show I hosted called Innerview. Note the play on words. Boy, I was clever back in the day!

The show was biographical, and the cameras were all trained on the guest. We did it in an artsy-fartsy way, a format I copycatted from an old A&E show, the title of which escapes me.

The viewer saw nothing but the guest for 30 minutes, in an array of dissolves and various camera angles and points of focus: hand gestures, eyes, slow pans, etc. My face only flashed on the screen during the intro and outro.

The guest list was populated with local celebs, political figures, civic leaders, etc. We couldn't pay anyone to show up, so anyone who appeared did it from the goodness of their heart.

Or, in the chief's case, the goodness of his Hart.

We couldn't pay, but the chief wanted compensation, apparently. More on that in a moment.

But the interview itself was a little rough, only because Hart seemed awfully tight, as if I was interrogating him rather than chatting with him. It wasn't until toward the end of our half hour that he began to loosen up a bit. More on THAT in a moment, too.

After the interview, one of the chief's minions sidled up to me.

"The chief wants to know if he can have that coffee mug," the aide said to me, pointing to a mug bearing the logo of our public access sister station, which the chief had drank water from in the Green Room.

"Sure," I shrugged. The aide and the chief were armed, after all. I was pretty sure we had more of those mugs.

That was the chief's compensation, then--a TV-34 coffee mug.

So Bill Hart took the mug, thanked me for the chat, and bid me farewell.

The next morning, the news broke in all the papers and all over television.

Bill Hart was in trouble. Big trouble.

At issue was a police fund set aside for fighting the drug war in Detroit.

Hart was being accused of dipping his hand in the cookie jar and extracting funds, here and there.

To the tune of over $2 million.

The money Hart embezzled was used for blatantly personal use: to fix up a cottage in Canada. To wine and dine some female lovelies--not his wife. To take some trips. Maybe to have some "walking around cash."


Mayor Coleman Young (right) announces the appointment of William Hart as Detroit's police chief in 1976

So THAT'S why the chief was so stiff and uncomfortable!

Or so I convinced myself.

The interview with Hart had been scheduled a few weeks in advance, so I'm sure it was simple coincidence that it happened the day before the story broke of the investigation into his actions.

But he no doubt knew something might be up.

Hart was later indicted and eventually convicted. The final tally on the dough he stole from city coffers was around $2.6 million.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, in 1992. He was released in 1999.

Chief Hart died in 2003, at age 79. To his dying day, he maintained his innocence.

Even after his conviction, Mayor Coleman Young supported his disgraced chief.

"Bill Hart was a good cop," Young said. "People ought to remember that."

Bill Hart may have been a good cop, but he sure screwed up.

I wonder if he used our mug to rattle against the bars in his prison cell.


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