Detroit prepares for new mayor

DETROIT | Still reeling from its mayoral scandal, Detroit will get a new mayor Friday, when City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. takes the oath of office in a low-key ceremony.

Mr. Cockrel, a former journalist and the youngest person ever elected to the council, assumes leadership because Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick resigned Sept. 4. The new mayor joined the council in 1998.

Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to two felony charges in a police whistleblower scandal that polarized Detroit for months. He faces four months in jail and a $1 million fine. His formal sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 28.

Mr. Cockrel, 42, already has begun his tenure as mayor by launching a Web site called Detroit Mayoral Transition 2008.

Aiming to energize the economically ravaged city and bring new blood to city government, his Web site seeks to recruit up to 100 “high energy, dedicated and ethical” employees who could replace appointees of Kilpatrick, who may vacate their posts after his tenure officially ends Thursday.

“I encourage you to participate in making Detroit better and stronger,” Mr. Cockrell said on the new Web site. “There is a renewed sense of optimism in this city. Now it is our turn to create positive change, for our people, our neighborhoods, our businesses and our region. I encourage you to submit your resume and communicate your interests in improving the way our government works for its people.”

Mr. Cockrel, who faces a tough challenge to help Detroit recoup not only its reputation but also its economic stability, has said his first priority as mayor will be to take charge of expansion plans for the aging Cobo Center, which needs more space.

The venue hosts high-dollar events like the North American International Auto Show, which brings in about 700,000 visitors and nearly $600 million to the flagging local economy.

The flamboyant Kilpatrick, once known as the “hip-hop mayor,” had an often fractured relationship with local news media. Mr. Cockrel, a Wayne State University alumnus, is a former newspaper reporter who worked at the Detroit Free Press, the Grand Rapids Press and the Cincinnati Inquirer.

He served on the Wayne County Commission before being elected to the City Council. He also was raised on city politics: His deceased father, an attorney and community activist, also served as a Detroit council member.

Council member Monica Conyers, wife of Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, will become council president after Mr. Cockrel is sworn in.

Mr. Cockrel has announced plans to run for mayor to serve a full term after his time as transitional mayor is completed.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to hold a special primary election Feb. 24 followed by a special election between the top two candidates on May 5. The transitional mayor would serve through 2009.

Voters will go to the polls in November 2009 to elect a new mayor to serve a full four-year term.

Among those mentioned as possible candidates: Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans, NBA legend Dave Bing, former City Council member Nicholas Hood, former Detroit Police Chief Benny Napoleon and Freeman Hendrix, former deputy mayor under Dennis Archer.

About the Author
Andrea Billups

Andrea Billups

Andrea Billups is a Midwest-based national correspondent for The Washington Times. She is a native of West Virginia and received her undergraduate degree from Marshall University and her master’s degree from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Her news career spans more than 20 years. She has reported for several newspapers, has edited two magazines and before joining the Times, ...

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