Kilpatrick Has Tough Primary

Son’s Scandal Bolsters Foes

Posted June 23, 2008 at 6:41pm

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 mayor’s 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 didn’t 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. “Y’all sent him up in here. Don’t let nobody talk about yaw’s boy. Too many people died for us. We’re here to fight. That’s what I’m talking about.”

Waters’ TV spot quotes the Congresswoman at her son’s 2005 rally, while naming all eight felony counts alleged against her son and showing his mugshot.

“Sorry Congresswoman, but we deserve much better than ‘yaw’s 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 mayor’s former bodyguard, Harold Nelthrope, were dismissed unfairly after investigating the mayor’s 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 mayor’s 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.

“It’s still a mother defending her son,” Mitchell said. “And I’m 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. Kilpatrick’s actions are fair game for the ad.

Rep. Kilpatrick’s campaign did not return calls for comment.

“I say you can be a mother and you can defend your son, but you don’t defend your son as the Congresswoman of the 13th Congressional district when you know your son’s 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. She’s also taking a completely different strategy than Waters by keeping her campaign positive for the time being.

When asked about how the mayor’s scandals affect her strategy against his mother, Scott said it was not a factor.

“It doesn’t play into my decision at all,” she said. “But if that helps it, that’s fine. But that had nothing to do with my decision to run. In all my races that I’ve been in … it’s always been my constituents who have asked me to do it.”

Scott’s 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. Kilpatrick’s 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 didn’t 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 Congresswoman’s 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. “She’s 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 she’ll be hurt in the process.