Pulling coattails

As political theater goes, last week's press conference by state Rep. Mary Waters wasn't particularly scintillating, but it did provide News Hits with a bit of illumination.

The Detroit legislator summoned area newshounds to the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center so she could make a big deal of the fact that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is opposing her bid to become the Democratic nominee in the secretary of state race. (Waters needs a new job because of term limits.)

Given that the other potential SOS candidates being talked about are neither a) Detroiters nor b) African-Americans, that seems an odd position for the leader of a city that's about 85 percent black to take ... until you consider KK's recent attempts to play payback.

In the primary just held, the Kwamster went gunning for all the local legislators who had the gall to oppose his re-election bid last year. Call it an attempt at power consolidation. Also call it a flamboyant flop. Despite the mayor's endorsement, nearly all candidates he backed in an attempt to oust the disloyal opposition fell flat. The targeted legislators turned out to stand beside Waters on Thursday.

Seems the big man's coattails are more of a tube top.

Now he's again trying to foil his foes by opposing Waters' bid to get on the Dem's state ticket. At least that's the way Waters sees it

Saying Kwame's putting heavy pressure on the governor, big labor and other party powerbrokers, Waters expressed her hope that the Dems, when they gather to hold their state convention in Detroit this week, will "not give in to the bullying tactics of Mayor Kilpatrick."

But it gets even more convoluted. Here's the theory being floated by the Waters camp: Kilpatrick is supporting Grosse Pointe attorney Amos Williams, who is black, for the attorney general slot because the mayor really wants to see Republican incumbent Mike Cox win. Williams, according to his detractors, is seen as the weaker of the two potential Dem attorney general candidates; the other is Grand Rapids District Judge Scott Bowen, a white guy who would have more drawing power out in the pale-faced hinterlands.

(We don't know Williams, but a recent AP story quoted someone we do know, liberal activist Paul Stevenson, touting his attributes — former Detroit cop, Vietnam vet, a solid record as a lawyer working on issues like civil rights, insurance and employment discrimination — so maybe he is the right guy for the job.)

And why would KK want Cox to win re-election? Although a Republican, Cox is a Wayne County guy considered to be cozy with the old McNamara political machine — the same well-oiled engine that helped Kwame get elected his first time out. And it was Cox who led the investigation when Kilpatrick was accused of hosting a wild wingding with strippers at the mayoral mansion back in 2002. That investigation determined the rumored party was an urban myth. So, in the words of political consultant Sam Riddle, who's working for Waters, Kilpatrick owes his political life to Cox.

By backing Bowen in the hope of assisting Cox, Kilpatrick is undermining Waters because the Democrats, since the early '70s, have never had more than one African-American on the four-slot statewide ticket. In other words, Williams in means Waters out.

Like we said, it gets pretty convoluted.

Waters also accused Kilpatrick of secretly planning to support not just Cox but also Dick DeVos and the rest of the GOP ticket. During the news conference, Waters claimed to have gotten that info directly from a top member of the mayor's administration. News Hits pressed her to say exactly who gave her that tip, but Riddle stepped in to give her cover, saying that, like a reporter, she was protecting her source.

As reported elsewhere, Kilpatrick's office issued a statement calling Waters' allegations "bogus."

"Mayor Kilpatrick believes any candidate being considered for the Democratic Party's statewide ticket should be able to raise funds, deliver a Democratic message and mobilize Democratic voters," declared the mayor's deputy chief of staff Eddie McDonald in a prepared statement. "Mary Waters has not met those criteria."

The counterargument to that, say those in the Waters camp, is that if Dems really want to defeat the GOP come November, they need the full-hearted support of Waters and her allies. After all, it was they — and not the mayor — who just demonstrated the real ability to turn out the city's voters.

To sort things out, News Hits put in a call to our pal Bill Ballenger, publisher of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.

BB definitely sees payback in play, and wonders how Detroit voters will view Kilpatrick's attack on an African-American from their hometown seeking statewide office. At the very least, that seems a politically tricky position for the mayor to be taking.

As far as his ability to get the city's Democratic voters to the polls on Election Day, Ballenger agrees that the slapdown Kwame's folks received during the primary shows his coattails are indeed short. But, he adds, if Waters and her crew really had so much power, Freman Hendrix would be the one occupying the Manoogian Mansion these days instead of KK.

In regard to the allegation that Kwame's going to be supporting the GOP, News Hits has a hard time swallowing that line. That would be political suicide. And no one ever accused Kwame of being dumb.

The question we have is, why would anyone in Detroit need motivation from any Democratic politician — be it the mayor or some state legislator — to turn out in November? We're not exactly inspired by Jennybelle, but DeVos, who anchors a spot on the extreme right, is downright scary. Does anyone believe Detroit would be better off with Mr. Amway running the state? That should be reason enough for anyone in these parts to get active.

Like that famous political pundit John Belushi once almost said, "Coattails? We don't need no stinkin' coattails."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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