Weakened Rep. Kilpatrick big target in Dem primary

Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) took the lowest primary percentage of any returning member of Congress last cycle, so it’s not surprising that ambitious Detroit lawmakers are taking aim at her again.

Fresh off her reelection that included just 39 percent of the primary vote, ambitious politicians are eyeing the last vestige of a once-prominent Kilpatrick dynasty and aiming to bring it to an end. And leading the way are the two women Kilpatrick faced in 2008 — former state Rep. Mary Waters and state Sen. Martha Scott.

A few important questions remain, though.
ADVERTISEMENT

One is whether her opponents can coalesce behind one candidate this time. Waters and Scott split up the anti-Kilpatrick vote in 2008, when one of them alone probably would have beaten her, perhaps handily.

The other is whether the conviction of the Michigan Democrat’s son, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D), wears off in 2010. The congresswoman’s August 2008 primary came at the height of her son’s legal problems and just before he was forced from office and sentenced to four months in jail.

Kilpatrick drew heat from her opponents for her vociferous defense of the mayor. One striking ad from Waters featured video of Kilpatrick imploring supporters to stand behind “y’all’s boy.”

Kilpatrick, the former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, has been much quieter since then, said Bill Ballenger, the publisher of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter.

“She was pretty vocal in defense of her son when he was under siege, and of course, the more outspoken she was, the more people got angry and went after her,” Ballenger said.

After coming so close in 2008, both Waters and Scott have eyed a rematch in 2010.

Waters, though, was implicated earlier this week in a federal investigation involving her congressional campaign manager, Sam Riddle, and she has resigned her position in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office.

Details of the investigation have yet to come out, but Waters isn’t backing down. She was quoted by the Center for Independent Media on Tuesday saying the situation will not “derail” her congressional aspirations, and that she only resigned because it was the “right thing to do.”

Waters represented the more formidable of Kilpatrick’s opponents in 2008, taking 36 percent of the vote.

The third-place candidate, state Sen. Martha Scott (25 percent), is also looking at the race and told The Hill she hopes to make a decision “within the next month or so.”

Scott said she’d like to avoid another situation where she and a second candidate like Waters split up the opposition vote.

“I would hope that it would be one of us, but circumstances change,” Scott said. “So we will see.”
ADVERTISEMENT

Besides Waters and Scott, a number of state lawmakers have districts that overlap with Kilpatrick’s eastern Wayne County district, and thanks to the state’s stringent term limits, many of them cannot run for reelection to their current posts in 2010.

Besides Scott, three other state senators represent parts of Kilpatrick’s district — Sens. Irma Clark-Coleman, Hansen Clarke and Buzz Thomas — and all four are term-limited next year.

Thomas didn’t comment, and spokespeople for Clark-Coleman declined to say whether they would be interested.

“The senator doesn’t comment on speculation,” Clark-Coleman’s spokeswoman said.

Another potential candidate being mentioned is former interim Mayor Ken Cockrel, who just lost a special mayoral election to former professional basketball player Dave Bing.

Cockrel surprised many last week by filing to run for reelection to the city council this year instead of seeking a rematch with Bing for a full term.

If Cockrel, the current council president, is seeking to move up, Kilpatrick’s seat could provide an alternative. But as of yet, he hasn’t shown any public interest in running against her.

Even if he were interested, though, it would be difficult for Cockrel, or any other city council member, to express it in 2009, as they are running for their current office and wouldn’t want to jeopardize that.

But once the 2009 elections are over, Ballenger pointed out, a candidate who performs especially strongly could be seen as an up-and-coming politician capable of going after Kilpatrick.

The problem for all these Democrats is sorting things out and avoiding another situation like 2008, where a weakened Kilpatrick prevails over a diluted field.

“There could be some other big names that get in,” Ballenger said. “The problem is, the more big names that get in, the more they’ll hack each other up, and she’ll have a chance to grease through.”

In a statement, Kilpatrick said she has worked hard every day and “will continue to do so.”

“My record and my commitment speak for themselves,” she said.