After Kwame

Quite a few major cities will be electing mayors in the coming months. But the stakes may be highest in Detroit, where voters will go ...
by | December 29, 2008

Quite a few major cities will be electing mayors in the coming months. But the stakes may be highest in Detroit, where voters will go to the polls February 24 to choose among 18 candidates seeking to fill the

unexpired term of Kwame Kilpatrick. 

Kilpatrick was sent to jail at the end of October and ordered to pay the city $1 million in restitution after he was convicted on obstruction of justice charges. Just as embarrassing for the city as his conviction was the sordid series of disclosures that preceded it, including salacious text messages that the mayor sent to an aide. Kilpatrick's months-long refusal to step down from office made the situation even worse.

The two top vote-getters in the February election will proceed to a runoff in May. The winner of the runoff will then be highly favored when the city votes later in the year to elect a mayor for a full term.

Early polling suggests that the frontrunners are Ken Cockrel Jr., the former city council president who has been acting as mayor since Kilpatrick's resignation, and Dave Bing, a businessman and former NBA

basketball star. Freman Hendrix, a former deputy mayor who nearly unseated Kilpatrick in 2005, has been showing support only in the single digits in the campaign so far.

A poll released a week before Christmas showed Bing leading with 32 percent, followed by Cockrel at 23 percent.

Cockrel had stumbled right out of the gate, failing to disclosein a sworn statement that his campaign committee owed $42,000. He quickly paid a fine and the state attorney general recently cleared Cockrel after a perjury investigation.

But what seemed like a minor disclosure issue took on a bigger life, given the city's current sensitivities. "To be put to national ridicule (by Kilpatrick) really bothered people," says Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor. "They don't want any hint of scandal."

Cockrel and his opponents will have a long list of city problems to talk about, including population loss, terrible schools and a big budget deficit, not to mention the implosion of the auto industry that Detroit long depended on. To put it simply, the local mood is a bit sour. "There's a sense of relief that Kilpatrick is gone," suggests Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, "but at this point in history people have lower, chastened expectations about how any mayor can make a difference."'

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a Lansing political consultant, has a slightly different take on things. "People want someone who has the vision, the energy and the enthusiasm of Kwame Kilpatrick," she says,

"and the ethics and morals of Jesus.

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