(The Root) — Last week, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in prison for corruption. Even though Kilpatrick's name has become synonymous with corrupt politics, most people outside of Detroit don't know the details of the case that landed Kilpatrick a conviction in March for racketeering conspiracy, fraud, extortion and tax crimes.
To some people, including me, Kilpatrick is best-known for carrying on an affair with his chief of staff. It was a highly publicized and salacious situation that came to light when the Detroit Free Press printed the racy text messages between Kilpatrick and Christine Beatty.
In 2009 they both served time — 99 days for Kilpatrick for obstruction of justice and 120 days for Beatty for lying under oath. His ongoing court cases and recent conviction and sentencing have kept Kilpatrick in the news, but less has been known of Beatty, who has flown under the radar — until now.
The November issue of Essence magazine (which features Scandal star Kerry Washington on the cover) carries a three-page personal essay (not available online) by Beatty, "A Real-Life Scandal," about the fallout from her affair with Detroit's ex-mayor. It's a juicy read, but Fitz and Olivia it is not. Unlike the couple in TV's most riveting political affair, the real-life story of the other woman is painful, tragic and, ultimately, just plain sad.
In Essence, Beatty strips back any layers of romanticism that could be attributed to having an affair. She begins by detailing the day she had to leave her daughters, then 8 and 10, to turn herself over to authorities for lying under oath about her six-year affair with Kilpatrick.
While Beatty describes herself as "totally consumed" by the affair, she also says that she was "ashamed" in the presence of Kilpatrick's wife and so guilt-ridden that she would sit in the back pews of her church. Beatty, who lost her own marriage because of the affair, notes that even as one of the most powerful women in the city of Detroit, she found herself so insecure that she worried more about her outfit for work than funding the city's services.
"My happiness was completely dependent on whether he adored me personally and was proud of me professionally," she wrote in the magazine. "He made me laugh, he made me angry, he propelled me to ecstasy and reduced me to tears … " Being an Olivia Pope-type mistress who can run her professional life to perfection while her personal life tanks was not possible for Beatty.
Aside from Beatty's delusions about her situation — she speaks about "knowing" that Kilpatrick loved her "unconditionally" — the saddest parts of her essay are the moments when she has to come clean to her ex-husband about her affair before it hit the papers. For a time he distanced himself from Beatty and their two daughters.
During the media circus that followed the Detroit Free Press story, reporters camped outside Beatty's house, and she had to climb out a window and into her neighbor's yard to avoid being followed by the press. She watched the election of the first black president, whom she'd met when he solicited help from the mayor's office during his campaign, from her jail cell.
Perhaps the most profound parts of Beatty's essay are what every woman knows — or should know — about being the other woman. "In the aftermath of sex scandals, men's transgressions are swept aside while women are stuck with labels," Beatty writes. "Home wrecker, opportunist, mistress, whore. Men are forgiven; women are punished."
Despite her professional accomplishments, Beatty has been unable to secure full-time work — even after leaving Detroit — because of the infamy of her name. (She notes that after he served his time for the obstruction-of-justice charges, Kilpatrick went straight into a six-figure job as an account executive for a software company.) For years she felt guilty and ashamed about the affair and its impact on the people she cares about, and she describes herself as beginning a "journey of self-forgiveness."
Beatty did gain some valuable takeaways from her experience, though, the most poignant of which is, "while you can't help how you feel, you are in control of your actions." That's a great lesson, and unfortunately she had to take herself to hell and back to reach it.