SOUTHFIELD (AP) – Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and challenger Freman Hendrix described their strategies for retaining residents and attracting new ones yesterday night in the last of three debates between the mayoral candidates before next month’s election.
“Detroit is on the cusp of becoming the biggest turnaround story in American history,” Kilpatrick said during the hour-long debate, which was televised live by Detroit-area station WXYZ.
He said the next mayor must pursue jobs with “reckless abandon” and change the city’s dependence on manufacturing. Kilpatrick said progress has been made with new restaurants, businesses and homes sprouting up downtown, but the city must “challenge the status quo” when it comes to the city’s police department and ensure that neighborhood parks and the city’s “jewels” such as Belle Isle are maintained to preserve a quality standard of living.
Hendrix said he would focus on making it more affordable for people to live in Detroit. He also said improving public safety and schools hold the key to Detroit’s success.
“In order to guarantee our people will stabilize in our city, it is extremely important that we have lower taxes, that we have insurance rates under control,” Hendrix said. By reducing tax rates to the average for Wayne County, “we can create an environment where those who live in Detroit can stay, and those who would consider coming into Detroit would do so,” he said.
The debate took place in the suburban Detroit studios of WXYZ, one of the debate’s sponsors. It was the second debate of the week for the candidates, who met Monday on the campus of Wayne State University.
Compared with their performance in Monday’s debate, the candidates focused more on answering the questions at hand and less on attacking each other. Still, they found ways to get the barbs in.
When asked to say two good things about his opponent, Hendrix said, “That’s a big challenge,” before complimenting the mayor on his ability to convince people and promote the city.
When asked the same question about Hendrix, who served as deputy mayor under Kilpatrick’s predecessor, Dennis Archer, Kilpatrick said, “I have no idea over the seven years that he was there what he did.”
Hendrix, 55, got 44 percent of the vote in the Aug. 2 primary, while Kilpatrick, 35, received 34 percent. The general election is Nov. 8.
With less than three weeks before the mayoral election, Hendrix has been leading Kilpatrick among likely voters; Hendrix had 48 percent to Kilpatrick’s 35 percent, with 17 percent undecided, according to the latest poll published Sunday.
The winner will inherit a city facing a $300 million budget deficit, and a continuing population decline that started a half-century ago when Detroit and the American auto industry were at their peaks.
Detroit now is the country’s 11th-largest city, with more than 900,000 residents. And earlier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey listed it as the nation’s most impoverished big city.
In their final scheduled side-by-side appearance before the election, the candidates closed the debate by trying to show how they stood apart and explain what they would do for Detroiters.
Kilpatrick tried to counter an image touted by Hendrix that the mayor’s administration has been fun-loving and irresponsible at a time that the city has been foundering.
“I couldn’t party,” Kilpatrick said. “We rolled up our sleeves, we went to work. And every day since I’ve been on this job, I’ve worked. Yes, I’ve made a few mistakes. There’s no question about it.”