Kwame Kilpatrick's Woes Tinge Mother's Campaign There's an anti-incumbent mood among many voters nationwide, and seven-term Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D) is struggling to retain her seat. But her biggest obstacle is her name. In Detroit, thanks to her son, Kwame -- the former mayor -- the name Kilpatrick has been connected to courtrooms and scandal.
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Kwame Kilpatrick's Woes Tinge Mother's Campaign

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Kwame Kilpatrick's Woes Tinge Mother's Campaign

Kwame Kilpatrick's Woes Tinge Mother's Campaign

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In the Democratic bastion of Detroit, winning the August 3rd party primary is tantamount to winning the general election, but Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick is struggling to retain her seat.

As WDET's Quinn Klinefelter reports, Kilpatrick's biggest problem is not her legislative record, it's her name.

QUINN KLINEFELTER: In Detroit the past few years, the name Kilpatrick has been repeatedly connected to courtrooms and scandal. Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is in prison and facing a federal indictment. Even in May, when his mother, seven-term Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, launched her bid for re-election at a Detroit union hall, the announcement came only two months after she'd testified before a federal grand jury on a topic she would not discuss publicly.

But her weariness from the continuing stream of charges involving her family name was apparent at the opening of her campaign.

Representative CAROLYN CHEEKS KILPATRICK (Democrat, Michigan): You know, you never know what God has in store for you. And when I want to quit, they always say: No, you can't quit. Keep on going. Lot of my best friends are retired...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. KILPATRICK: And they tell - still tell me: No, we need you there. And I'm here to fight one more time.

(Soundbite of applause)

KLINEFELTER: Yet in the media scrum following her announcement and at almost every news event since then, the first questions centered less on her work than on allegations facing her son.

Unidentified Man: What do you think will happen when he goes back to court later this month?

Rep. KILPATRICK: I thought this was about my are we finished talking about the job that I'm running for? If we are, thank you very much for coming, and again, I'll be running hard. I'll keep a positive race, and I'm praying for my son. And I hope you guys will, too.

KLINEFELTER: The congresswoman's flamboyant son was forced from the mayor's office in 2008 after perjuring himself about an affair with his chief of staff. He was sent to prison in May for violating probation and while incarcerated was indicted by a federal grand jury on 19 counts of fraud and tax evasion.

Congresswoman Kilpatrick has never been implicated in any of the charges against her son. But the allegations typically frame debates here.

At this lunch room candidate speech in a Detroit senior center, one of Kilpatrick's opponents, Hansen Clarke, is stumping for votes. Clarke says Detroit needs jobs, and they won't appear amid the scent of scandal.

Mr. HANSEN CLARKE (Democratic Congressional Candidate, Michigan): Because the image of the region is tainted by Detroit's reputation of being represented by arrogant, corrupt, self-serving politicians. Businesses don't want to locate here because they can't trust the city because of the politics. By electing me, I can change the image so that we have a fresher one that'll attract jobs and investment here.

KLINEFELTER: But the seniors in the lunchroom, munching on food provided by the Clarke campaign, have decidedly mixed feelings.

Detroiter Ikie Frasier notes that Kilpatrick is the only member of the Michigan delegation on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and says the congresswoman's guided federal dollars to the cash-strapped city. And yet, Frasier says, it all seems for naught.

Ms. IKIE FRASIER: It doesn't make any difference anymore. She's been doomed by her son's actions because people might think she's inclined to do what he did. And I really don't think she is.

KLINEFELTER: The former mayor's legal troubles are a legitimate issue for lunchmate Ella Dunmore. Mixing metaphors, she says birds may leave the nest, but bad apples don't fall far from the tree.

Ms. ELLA DUNMORE: So when they step out into the world, they're representing what you have taught them. Like I say, I don't see a lot of positive.

KLINEFELTER: Congresswoman Kilpatrick barely retained her seat in the Democratic primary two years ago. This time, her path to re-election is blocked not just by her opponents but by fresh media images of her son in court, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and facing new federal charges.

For NPR News, I'm Quinn Klinefelter in Detroit.

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