NPR logo

Kilpatrick Matriarch Loses Detroit Primary

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Kilpatrick Matriarch Loses Detroit Primary

Kilpatrick Matriarch Loses Detroit Primary

Kilpatrick Matriarch Loses Detroit Primary

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A veteran Michigan politician was bounced out of Congress earlier this week, as voters in Detroit ended the career of 7-term Democratic Representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick. The failings of her son - former Detroit mayor and convicted felon Kwame Kilpatrick - were thought to play a role in her defeat. State Senator Hansen Clarke, who defeated Ms. Kilpatrick, talks about his triumph and how he plans to secure another victory in November.


All right. Next, to Michigan, an incumbent, as you heard, held on in Memphis. But in Detroit, a very different story. In Tuesday's primary there, seven-term Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, she is the mother of former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, lost her seat to State Senator Hansen Clarke in a heavily Democratic district.

Joining us now is Hansen Clarke, the Democratic nominee from Michigan's 13th congressional district. Welcome. Thank you for joining us and congratulations.

State Senator HANSEN CLARKE (Democrat, Michigan): Well, Michel, thank you, too. And this is a big victory. It's not just for me, but for the taxpayers of the region of metro Detroit.

MARTIN: Because?

Ms. CLARKE: Many voters felt that Congress and their government's been out of touch with them. We're suffering through an economic depression here in metro Detroit. And people would see Congress loaning out their tax dollars to bail out banks that foreclosed on their neighbors, helping out insurance companies that end up overcharging people. And generally spending money on projects and studies that really didn't benefit people who were losing their jobs, their homes and ultimately losing confidence in their government and themselves.

And I've always been an advocate for the taxpayer directly. And in me they saw someone that would work for them without getting caught up in the Washington culture, which has insulated many elected officials. But one last point and it's an important one is that this was a personal mission for me of what I went through. And if I could just share this with you because it's actually what drove me to run against the entire Democratic and Republican political establishment here in Michigan.

Many years ago, when I was a young man, I was 19 years old, I lost my parents and I never had brothers and sisters. I had a good scholarship in college, which I ultimately lost soon after that, then my income, then the food stamps I've been receiving were cut off. I was on the verge of really losing hope and giving up.

But it was in part of a job created by an act of Congress, the old theater program, a direct job created by tax dollars. It gave me a little bit more than a minimum wage. But it gave me something more important. It gave me dignity and a mission to help people because it assigned me to work with at-risk kids at the local high school. And I never forgot that.

MARTIN: Okay. I think I understand where you're coming from. I think I understand where you're coming from, that you feel that you can relate to a lot of what people in Detroit are going through right now.

But I would like to ask what role you think the difficulties of former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick played in the defeat of his mother, Carolyn. And of course as I think everybody knows, Kwame Kilpatrick was supposed to resign after a scandal. He is currently in jail. And do you think that there are those who argue that she's paying for the sins of the son. Do you think that might be true?

Ms. CLARKE: I don't believe so. But what the whole scandal, though, did taint the image of metro Detroit and was a turn off to employers who wanted to locate here because they felt that they would have to play politics in order to do business. So people elected me because they wanted to create a new, fresh image to the region that would attract jobs without having to deal with all the political corruption and arrogance of the past. That's what people were really tired of.

MARTIN: You know, you also have a very interesting background. That you studied art in college.

Ms. CLARKE: That's right.

MARTIN: That's not always the typical background for a political leader. And also, if you don't mind my mentioning this your cultural background is interesting. Like the president, you are biracial. Your mother is African-American. Your father was of Bangladeshi background. As you mentioned, you lost both of them at a young age, which is also true of the president. I'm interested in whether you think the uniqueness of your biography played some role in how you why you wanted to get into politics and how you think you will perform as a political leader.

Ms. CLARKE: Absolutely. It was the only reason why I got in, because as a little kid I saw my neighborhood destroyed through the 1967 riot. And for years I always wanted to bring that neighborhood back. And for 40 years I saw it in decline. And now this is the one chance I have to help the region. And, you know, Michel, my background did help me. For years, I always thought I was a liability because I always had to struggle and work and hustle to get things accomplished.

But the day before the election, I had a meeting with over 100 people who were recently homeless who just got freed of drugs. They were clean. And I spoke to them about what I went through as a young man on the verge of losing hope, but this act of Congress gave me a job and that's how I knew firsthand that Congress can make a difference in people's lives.


Ms. CLARKE: They understood where I was coming from. You know what they did, Michel? They came out and vote. They voted. They voted for me - people who were on the margins of society. My message to them was this it doesn't matter if you're broke, if you're homeless, if you're addicted to drugs, you're a citizen of this country, your government must work for you. And that I as your congressman will be working for you. And that turned the whole political dynamic on its head.

MARTIN: You know, actually, the turnout was actually pretty low. Voter turnout was still low. It was only about 16 percent turnout. So what do you think that that means?

Ms. CLARKE: It was low. Well, in the past a lot of people just didn't see value in voting for their elected official, they didn't see value there. But the few that did were able to turn out people who otherwise wouldn't have voted. And it's up to me to prove that their government can work for them as opposed to working for the politician. In the past...

MARTIN: Well, we do hope you'll come back and see us again as you take office. Congratulations once again, nominee elect.

Ms. CLARKE: You're very welcome. My slogan was: Power to the people.

MARTIN: Okay. State Senator Hansen Clarke is a Democratic nominee from Michigan's 13th congressional district. As you heard, his slogan was: Power to the people. He joined us from NPR member station WDET in Detroit. Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. CLARKE: You're very welcome. God bless you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.