Kilpatrick Has Tough Primary
Son’s Scandal Bolsters Foes
Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (Mich.), a passionate defender of her scandal-plagued son, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, now has to defend herself against two formidable Democratic primary opponents.
State Sen. Martha Scott and former state Rep. Mary Waters are challenging the Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman in the Aug. 5 primary. And while Scott might have the higher name identification because of her office, Waters is making waves with a potent ad that attacks the Congresswoman over the mayors scandal and uses her own words against her.
In connection with his alleged affair with his former chief of staff and his attempts to cover it up in a whistle-blower trial Mayor Kilpatrick has been charged with eight felony counts that could add up to decades in jail.
Through this and other controversies the mayor has weathered over his six years in office, Rep. Kilpatrick has defended her son.
But it is her spirited defense of the mayor during the kickoff of his 2005 re-election campaign that is particularly well-known among Detroit voters and political insiders.
He didnt just get up in here by just coming, the Congresswoman yelled at the campaign rally a speech that has been disseminated on YouTube and political Web sites. Yall sent him up in here. Dont let nobody talk about yaws boy. Too many people died for us. Were here to fight. Thats what Im talking about.
Waters TV spot quotes the Congresswoman at her sons 2005 rally, while naming all eight felony counts alleged against her son and showing his mugshot.
Sorry Congresswoman, but we deserve much better than yaws boy, an announcer says in the ad.
The felony counts against Mayor Kilpatrick stem from a 2007 whistle-blower trial in which a jury ruled that former police officer Gary Brown and the mayors former bodyguard, Harold Nelthrope, were dismissed unfairly after investigating the mayors administration. Not only did the city have to spend $8.4 million on the trial, but a January news report unearthed a series of text messages that showed evidence contrary to the mayors testimony and revealed that he had been in a personal relationship with his chief of staff.
The situation is ironically similar to the way Kilpatrick took her Congressional seat in 1996. She defeated then-Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins, 52 percent to 31 percent, in a seven-way Democratic primary.
Collins was under investigation by the House ethics committee at the time, but she also had family problems: Her son served jail time for armed robbery during her first years in Congress.
Michigan pollster Steve Mitchell, who did work for Mayor Kilpatrick earlier in his tenure, said he thought Waters ad might backfire given the composition of the district. The 13th district is an urban area and the majority of the voters are women, a high percentage of whom are older than 50.
Its still a mother defending her son, Mitchell said. And Im not sure strategically … to attack a mother for defending her son is a smart political move with a constituency [that is] very heavily mothers who have sons who have gotten into trouble.
However, Waters said she thinks Rep. Kilpatricks actions are fair game for the ad.
Rep. Kilpatricks campaign did not return calls for comment.
I say you can be a mother and you can defend your son, but you dont defend your son as the Congresswoman of the 13th Congressional district when you know your sons behavior is affecting this entire region, Waters said.
Mitchell said he still thinks the signs point to a Kilpatrick re-election, especially given that her opposition is split between Waters and Scott.
As a sitting state Senator, Scott has a higher platform from which to run. Shes also taking a completely different strategy than Waters by keeping her campaign positive for the time being.
When asked about how the mayors scandals affect her strategy against his mother, Scott said it was not a factor.
It doesnt play into my decision at all, she said. But if that helps it, thats fine. But that had nothing to do with my decision to run. In all my races that Ive been in … its always been my constituents who have asked me to do it.
Scotts campaign has been so positive, in fact, that some political observers have anonymously questioned whether she is really in the race to win or to split the vote against Kilpatrick an accusation she vehemently denied.
That is as far from the truth as it can be, she said.
However, in the end, Rep. Kilpatricks electoral success just might be untouchable.
Mitchell said whistle-blower Brown publicly commissioned a poll to look at the district when he was thinking about running against Rep. Kilpatrick earlier this year. Though the results of the poll were never released, Brown opted not to challenge the Congresswoman.
The fact that Gary Brown commissioned a poll and didnt run speaks volumes, Mitchell said.
Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, Rep. Kilpatrick also has the duty of running the CBC, which is at a pivotal point as Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) runs for the presidency and Democrats hold the Congressional majority.
One Democratic strategist with close ties to the CBC said the Congresswomans problems at home have not affected her role in the caucus, which currently has members in leadership, four committee chairmanships and dozens of subcommittee chairmanships.
Some people say being a caucus chair is like herding cats, the strategist said. Shes had to be more of a lion tamer.
In the world of political animals, this mother lioness might stop at nothing to protect her son. The question is whether shell be hurt in the process.