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Kilpatrick makes self known in suburbs

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Kilpatrick makes self known in suburbs

Oakland commission to hear mayor tonight

March 25, 2004

BY M.L. ELRICK

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

When Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was growing up, the suburbs meant two things: shopping at Northland and avoiding Dearborn.

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"We would go to Northland to get our school clothes, and that was basically about it," Kilpatrick said Wednesday in a wide-ranging discussion about the city and its neighbors. "We didn't spend a great deal of time in the suburbs."

Later, the 33-year-old mayor added: "We knew growing up you shouldn't go to Dearborn. . . . We just didn't go over there. You knew you were going to get hassled. And everytime you drove in there, you got hassled."

But suburbanites can expect to see a lot more of Kilpatrick in the future, beginning tonight, when he becomes the first Detroit mayor in memory to address the Oakland County Commission.

The commission is holding a special session on water rates -- one of the thorniest topics between city and suburbia these days. Kilpatrick also plans to meet with Macomb County commissioners on April 29 and with the Wayne County Commission at an unspecified date after that.

The meetings are part of Kilpatrick's plan to improve relations between Detroit and the suburbs, whose help he needs for mundane things like filling the city's restaurants and huge undertakings like building a $1-billion convention center.

Despite his early reticence about venturing far from his west-side neighborhood, Kilpatrick has made numerous forays into the suburbs since entering politics in 1996.

As a state representative hoping to become speaker of the House, he made trips like the door-to-door campaigning he did in Roseville with then-Rep. Mickey Switalski.

As mayor, he has made unpublicized appearances like a 2003 meeting with a synagogue in Oakland County and a much-publicized speech to the Macomb County Rotary Club in 2002.

These days, however, Kilpatrick is more than a politician on the make when he hits the suburbs.

"We shop at two places, Farmer Jack on Jeffersonand Whole Foods Market," Kilpatrick said. The mayor, who lives near the Farmer Jack on Detroit's east side, easily rattled off the cross streets for two Whole Foods grocery stores in Oakland County.

At Christmas, the mayor said he also buys clothes at Somerset mall in Oakland County for his mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, and sister, Ayanna.

Kilpatrick said he does most of his shopping in Detroit -- "I've never been a mall guy," he said, adding, "I'm too big." He said he likes the area of downtown Birmingham around the Palladium theaters, and in Royal Oak, there's Caribou Coffee and the Pronto restaurant.

"It's nice, real good," he said. "Y'all should check that out."

Kilpatrick -- who became mayor shortly after the city's residency requirement was wiped out by state lawmakers -- has the first administration with a suburban flavor. His chief development officer, Walt Watkins, lives in Bloomfield Hills, and Victor Mercado, head of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, lives in West Bloomfield.

Kilpatrick said every appointee he has hired since lives in the city, adding that he hopes to convince at least Mercado to relocate.

"That one got past us," he said. "So I'm still working on him to come into the city of Detroit. He lives too far."

Kilpatrick said Detroit's future depends on convincing more people to give the city a second chance.

He said he hopes meeting with suburban officials will help cut the tension that has existed between the city and its neighbors since Mayor Coleman Young's 1974 inaugural address when he urged criminals to hit 8 Mile.

"I would say that if you did poll Detroiters and suburbanites, that is probably the thing they remember most as the defining moment of outlining our relationship with each other," he said.

"Detroiters interpreted it as he wanted to clean up our community. The suburban people interpreted it two ways: You want to send all those folks to prey on us, and secondly, you're telling us to get out of your town, forget you. But both of those interpretations were wrong."

Kilpatrick credited his predecessor, Dennis Archer, with improving relations with suburbs during his eight years in office.

"And now Kwame Kilpatrick has the issue of 'let's meet in the middle of the bridge and see what we can do together,' " Kilpatrick said, adding that cultural and economic differences, coupled with racism, remain serious impediments to progress.

Kilpatrick said he hopes to convince suburbanites to move back to Detroit, and said he has no plans to leave.

"People like living in the suburbs, some people like that, and that's cool," he said.

"There's this thing out there that people live in the city because they couldn't get out. . . . I wouldn't live in the suburbs if you gave away something. I don't want to live out there. I like it here."

Contact M.L. ELRICK at 313-223-3327 or [email protected]

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