David vs. Goliath?: Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick


Despite the heavy campaign war chest she commands and the bevy of heavyweight endorsements she garnered from institutions and leaders in the metro Detroit area, Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick knows that she is in a real fight for her political life.

She is facing a tough re-election battle in the 13th Congressional District as her opponents attempt to paint her as a lawmaker who has not cared for her district, and has not shown how big projects she talks about benefited the little people.

In a rare sit-down interview with the Michigan Chronicle a few weeks before the Aug. 3 primary, Kilpatrick acknowledged that the road to Congress this fall will not be a cakewalk for the seventh-term congresswoman.

“Its rugged. I’m not taking anything for granted. We are running hard, hitting every city. We are going all over,” Kilpatrick said. “I’ve got the support Downriver, the mayors down there are supporting me.”

Her son, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, facing 19 counts of federal indictment, appeared in court Tuesday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to charges of mail, wire and tax fraud.

Congresswoman Kilpatrick herself has appeared twice before the federal grand jury that handed down the 19 counts of indictment against her son. The grand jury is also said to be looking into the former mayor’s father, Bernard Kilpatrick, who ran a consulting group during his son’s regime allegedly shaking down businesses.

But the congresswoman, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee as the only member of the Michigan Congressional Delegation, has repeatedly maintained that she spoke the truth and only the truth before the grand jury investigating corruption at city hall.

“People don’t talk about the grand jury. Grand jury is a secretive body, but what I can say is I went twice, I answered the questions to the best of my ability in the most truthful, honest way that I could,” Kilpatrick said. “And that’s all I can really say about that. I thought they treated me very nicely. People will talk and speculate. That’s them. I can’t deal with that.”

When asked if she feels that her campaign is being unfairly dragged down by the travails of the former mayor, Congresswoman Kilpatrick responded, “You know I’m his mom. So I get some of that, but I’m telling you, the love that I feel from so many more is overwhelming. And I’m trying to keep it on my work. I do get that but I don’t let that stop me. I think some of those people I won’t get anyway.

With four other contenders in the race, including Sen. Hansen Clarke,Kilpatrick said she is sure the vote will be divided and she is fighting for every vote.

“Kwame is not running, I’m running. I’ve done a good job, I’ve delivered money, so I’m asking for people to support me,” Kilpatrick said.

Aside from facing political guilt by association, Kilpatrick said the campaign is gruelling because, “I think nationally the press is dogging incumbents, the country is in bad shape, people are just hanging on by their fingernails.”

She cited as an example the Senate’s refusal to extend unemployment benefits for millions without jobs.

“I’m supporting jobs because I think that’s the only way to get us back together,” Kilpatrick said. “I’ve introduced an amendment. We’ve had a hundred people signed on that and, unfortunately, President Barack Obama is not supporting it. He and I disagree on this one. And neither is my speaker.”

Kilpatrick is referring to the CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) of the 1970s which she said was instituted in the 1980s, and both Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter used to put millions back to work.
“Right now we are cutting back. These funds (CETA) could hire, also retrain workers,” she said. “We are in two wars, spend $2 trillion in these two wars. I’m on the Defense Appropriations Committee, first African-American woman ever to serve on the committee.”

Kilpatrick said she has more experience in government and the legislative process than any of her opponents in the race for Congress. She said contrary to some criticism, she has been an avid supporter of the district and Michigan. She cited her push for support of the auto industry as an example.

“We worked together to save the auto industry, get enough votes that we needed. The president was on board, but the president doesn’t appropriate, House and Senate does,” Kilpatrick said.

She also said when Congressman John Dingell was pushing for another casino near the Detroit Metro Airport, she and Congressman John Conyers Jr. teamed up with Republican lawmakers to defeat the proposal.

Critics have long held that any casinos outside of the city could negatively impact revenues of the three casinos in Detroit that contribute to the city’s coffers.

“What that would have done is no new gamblers, they would have just taken the money and divided it. We couldn’t afford it,” Kilpatrick said. “But we beat them. So we always say no permanent friends, permanent issues.”

Kilpatrick said she has brought in federal dollars for area universities to bolster their programs as well as transportation funding for SMART and D-DOT buses and the recently erected Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit.

She has been criticized for her absence on national television addressing relevant issues relating to her home state. But Kilpatrick counters that programs such as “Meet the Press” pick who they want to appear on the show.

“The programs that I bring money to would be out of business without the federal appropriations,” Kilpatrick said.

“They want the best for America, the state and the best person they believe can deliver,” Kilpatrick said, explaining why the Detroit Council of Baptist Pastors & Vicinity, Grosse Pointe Democrats and several other groups are endorsing her campaign.

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