'Hip hop mayor' aims to rev Motor City engine
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"I think it's because he's unabashedly young, the energy he has is infectious," says Melvin "Butch" Hollowell, a political analyst running for Michigan Secretary of State. "The seniors see him as their grandson, and then there's this core of young folks who've never connected with government before, and they see that one of their own is now the man in charge, earring and all."Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, his approval rating is 75 percent, and he's constantly swarmed by young and old alike.
"He does have some growing to do, but he's receptive to listening and that's very good," says Lorraine Tucker who's lived in Detroit all her 64 years.
"I do feel things are a little better already," says Sylvester Gary, a young father who, like many in the middle-class, wants to stay in Detroit and turn it around.
Some political pundits caution that Kilpatrick's enthusiasm may have raised expectations that could be difficult to meet. The deft touch he demonstrated in Lansing hasn't translated well. Since he took office in January, a a tentative and polite relationship with the Detroit City Council has degenerated into open hostility. Council members have thwarted his agenda and openly attacked his youth and inexperience. And Kilpatrick has blasted them for trying to be "nine junior mayors."
"Kwame thinks the city council should do whatever he says," contends Maryann Mahaffey, council president. "But I grew up in an era when government was supposed to have checks and balances ... I'll continue to act on that."
In June, the council nixed a deal with the city's three casinos the mayor had spent months negotiating. They say he hadn't driven a hard enough bargain. But some observers argued it was just a case of bruised egos because they weren't included in the talks. Last week, a divided council approved a deal very much like the one Kilpatrick originally sought.
He's had other missteps. Early on the mayor alienated city political and labor elite by not returning phone calls and being persistently late a problem he's tried to remedy with staff changes.
Then there's what the Detroit News calls the administration's "apparent sloppiness." His office announced the creation of a police foundation with a high profile board to fundraise money for the beleaguered department. But no one had asked several members if they'd serve, including the chairmen of the Ford Motor Company and DTE energy company. Both men declined to take part.
People close to the mayor say the missteps are part of a learning process and that he's a quick study. For instance, on the casino deal, Kilpatrick's supporters say he wouldn't have run into problems if he'd included key council members in the negotiations.
"He's solid as a rock, it's just that he's learning with everything he does," says the mayor's uncle, Raymond Cheeks, who is the director of Detroit's Neighborhood City Halls. Mr. Cheeks' appointment raised accusations of nepotism and also raised concerns about Kilpatrick's judgment.
But many working people, like Ms. Tucker, are more concerned with what they see on the streets, which are cleaner, and in their neighborhoods, where people are becoming more involved since Kilpatrick took over.
"He's willing to step out of his comfort zone and look for something different for the city," says Tucker.
Youngest sitting big-city mayor: 32.
Education: Detroit public schools; Florida A&M University, degree in political science; Detroit College of Law, Juris Doctorate Degree
Family: Wife, Carlita Kilpatrick, stay-at-home mom; three sons twins age 6, and an 8-month-old.
Sport: Football lineman, captain of his college team.
Political roots: Mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D) of Michigan; father, Bernard Kilpatrick, former Wayne County Commissioner; first elected to the Michigan House in 1996, taking the seat vacated by his mother; first visited Detroit mayor's office at age 10 to interview Mayor Coleman Young for a school essay.
Latest CD Endorsement: "Stay Low, Keep Movin,'" by the Black Bottom Collective, a Detroit rap group.