Kilpatrick, Carolyn Cheeks 1945–
Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick 1945–
Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick was elected to the House of Representatives in November of 1996. Having served for 17 years in Michigan’s State House of Representatives prior to winning her congressional seat, Kilpatrick well earned her reputation in Lansing as a careful, thoughtful lawmaker with a knack for working across party lines to accomplish her goals. Born on June 25, 1945 in Detroit, to Marvell Cheeks, Jr. and Willa Mae Cheeks (Henry), Kilpatrick married Bernard Nathaniel Kilpatrick in 1968, whom she later divorced. While married, the couple had two children, son Kwame and daughter Ayanna. Kilpatrick continues to maintain her residence in Detroit when not in Washington.
Having earned her associates degree from Ferris State College in Big Rapids, Michigan in 1965, Kilpatrick went on to earn a Bachelors of Science from Western Michigan University in 1972 and a Masters of Science in Education from the University of Michigan in 1977. Carolyn worked as a secretary for REA Express from 1962-63 while attending college, and later became a teacher in the Detroit Public School system from 1970-78 while she completed her higher education degrees, teaching most of those years at Murray Wright High School in Detroit from 1972-78. Kilpatrick was also a former coordinator of Political Action for the Shrine of the Black Madonna, a member of the Resource Committee for the television documentary, Your Children, Our Children, a school board member, and a Board of Trustees member for Henry Ford Hospital.
Shortly after her graduation from the University of Michigan, Kilpatrick was elected as a state representative to the Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing, where she served as a legislator from 1978 to 1996. Receiving nominal GOP opposition during her campaign in the heavily Democratic district, Kilpatrick was the first African American female to sit on the Appropriations Committee of the Michigan Legislature, to which she was later appointed. The former teacher
At a Glance…
Born June 25, 1945, in Detroit, Ml; daughter of Marvell Cheeks, J r, and Willa Mae Cheeks (Henry); married Bernard Nathaniel Kilpatrick, 1968, divorced; two children: Kwame and Ayanna. Religion: Baptist. Education: Ferris State Coll., Big Rapids, Ml, associates degree, 1965; Western Ml Univ., B.S., 1972; Univ. of Ml, M.S., Educ., 1977.
Career: REA Express, secretary, 1962-63; Detroit Public Schools, teacher, 1970-78; Shrines of the Black Madonna, coordinator for Political Action; Resource Comm. for TV documentary, Your Children, Our Children; Detroit School Board, mem.; Henry Ford Hospital, Board of Trustees; Ml House of Reps., state rep., 1978-96; U.S. House of Reps.for 15th Dist., congresswoman, 1996-.
Honors and awards: Anthony Wayne Award for Leadership, Wayne State Univ.; Distinguished Legislator Award, Univ. of Ml; Woman of the Year Award, Gentlemen of Wall Street, Inc.; Distinguished Alumnus Award, Ferris State Univ.; Burton-Abercrombie Award, 15th Democratic Congressional District.
Selected memberships: Natl. Organization of 100 Black Women; Natl. Black Caucus of State Legislators (chairperson, Ml Leg. session 1983-84); National Order of Women Legislators; Natl.Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women (treasurer); Democratic Whip member for House Appropriations Committee (Ml House of Reps); Democratic delegate for the Democratic Natl. Conv. in 1980, 1984, 1988; Representative for Detroit Substance Abuse Advisory Council; selected by Gov. James J. Blanchard to participate in the Ml African Trade Mission, 1985; participant in the UN Intl. Women’s Conf. of 1986; delegate for the Ml Dept.of Agriculture in the Intl. Agricultural Show, Nairobi, Kenya, 1986
Addresses: Home —7445 LaSalle Blvd., Detroit, Ml 48206. Office —503 Cannon Bldg. Washington, DC 20515.
proved to be a veteran legislator whose hallmark was her work on education and transportation issues. Kilpatrick also distinguished herself by mastering fiscal and appropriations issues, as well as by working well across party lines. Kilpatrick once successfully led a coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who sought to block a proposal from Michigan Governor John Engler to halt funding for local transportation programs. Kilpatrick maintained a strong, yet diplomatic voice throughout her tenure in the state house as a Democratic Whip member for the House Appropriations Committee. Additionally, she was selected as the Democratic delegate for the Democratic National Conventions in 1980, 1984, and 1988.
Kilpatrick further enhanced her credentials by being selected to the Detroit Substance Abuse Advisory Council and being selected by then-Governor James J. Blanchard to participate in the Michigan African Trade Mission of 1985. Kilpatrick was also a participant in the United Nations International Women’s Conference of 1986 and again an international delegate, this time for the Michigan Department of Agriculture in the International Agricultural Show in Nairobi, Kenya during 1986.
Kilpatrick is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Anthony Wayne Award for Leadership by Wayne State University; the Distinguished Legislator Award by the University of Michigan; the Woman of the Year Award by Gentlemen of Wall Street, Inc.; the Distinguished Alumnus Award by Ferris State University; and the Burton-Abercrombie Award for the 15th Democratic Congressional District. Kilpatrick also served as a member of the National Organization of 100 Black Women; and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, where she was chairperson for the 1983-84 Michigan legislative session.
In June of 1991, Kilpatrick ran against Kay Everett for a Detroit City Council position. The winner of the race would replace Barbara-Rose Collins who left the council in January of 1991 for Congress. If elected, Kilpatrick would earn $60,000 per year and be given a city car. Voters who supported Detroit Mayor Coleman Young’s philosophy were expected to vote for Kilpatrick, an ally of Mayor Young, while those favoring political change were expected to vote for Everett. During this campaign, Kilpatrick emphasized her concern over Detroit’s eroding tax base and voiced her goal of bringing development and jobs into the city, goals she continues to support. Kilpatrick also expressed her concerns regarding crime, city services and education, where she began her career as a teacher some 20 years previous.
Mayor Young fully supported Kilpatrick in this run-off, both financially and otherwise, because the election would affect the balance of power on the nine-member city council. Four members of the council regularly sided with Young on issues, and Young perceived Kilpatrick as a fifth member who could result in a consistent majority vote on issues of concern to him. Kilpatrick, then 44-years-old, had represented Detroit in the state legislature since 1978, having been re-elected to the legislature six times. As majority whip of the state house, heading the corrections budget committee, Kilpatrick’s relationship with Mayor Young dated back to 1973 when she served as a community organizer for his first mayoral election.
Aside from the questionable relationship with Mayor Young, wherein voters perceived that Kilpatrick might merely act as his puppet, other factors contributed to Kilpatrick’s eventually losing the race to Everett. For one thing, Kilpatrick’s Capitol Center Printing, Inc., a franchise of American Speedy Printing in downtown Lansing, had failed to pay nearly $8,500 in federal employee withholding taxes and owed back rent of $5,800. This news, coupled with reports in May of 1991 that certain of Kilpatrick’s travel expenses to conventions and meetings were inappropriately paid for, hindered her success in being elected to the City Council. Apparently, at a time when Michigan legislators had banned state House reimbursement because of a budget crunch, the already overburdened Department of Corrections budget footed the bill for expenses incurred by Kilpatrick to attend crime and corrections related conferences.
Regarding views that she would act as no more than Mayor Young’s puppet if elected, Kilpatrick felt that such views were unfortunate, stating to a Detroit News reporter that, “My record speaks for itself, I am independent, I can say no to any projects that are not good for the city of Detroit.” Also during that time Kilpatrick’s colleagues in Lansing described her as being fair minded, determined, and a positive force on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections on which she served. Additionally, Kilpatrick was hailed by her peers for being fair to republicans as well as democrats, possessing a detailed knowledge of the budget. Nonetheless, Kilpatrick lost the race against Everett for Detroit City Council, after having spent an exorbitant $150,000 in the primary election, $80,000 of which was contributed by Mayor Coleman A. Young’s political action committee.
Three years later in June of 1994, Kilpatrick again sought to run for office, seeking the Democratic nomination for Michigan Senate. However, through a fluke of fate, the 49-year-old Kilpatrick was not permitted to enter the race. Having initially filed for the senate seat, Kilpatrick withdrew from the August 2, 1994 primary ballot out of respect for 20-year incumbent Senator David Holmes who later filed. However, Holmes died on May 21st, eight days after the filing deadline, whereupon Kilpatrick attempted, unsuccessfully, to be permitted to re-file.
Undaunted by previous failures, by August of 1996 Kilpatrick was again in the running, this time in the primary for 15th District representative in the United States House of Representatives. Her many supporters included the Reverend Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP; Reverend Edgar Vann of Ebenezer, president of the Council of Baptist Pastors of the Detroit area; and Reverends Robert Smith and Gregory Ingham. These powerful individuals voiced their support for Kilpatrick at a news conference on August 1, 1996, stating that they needed better representation than was being provided by incumbent Barbara-Rose Collins. Collins had been under intense investigation since the spring of 1995 by the House Ethics Committee and the Justice Department. Fortunately for Kilpatrick, the support of these ministers, who represented a potent political force and highly respected members of the community, enhanced her campaign. Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, however, withheld support for either candidate at that time because he felt the race had become volatile and emotional, and that the voters were able to make their own decision.
Eventually, however, Kilpatrick reigned victorious over Collins and six other candidates in the primary, virtually ensuring her election in November to the United States House of Representatives for the 15th District. On primary day, Kilpatrick drew a majority vote against all runners. Indeed, Kilpatrick won the November election, defeating Republican Stephen Hume and incumbent Barbara-Rose Collins. Kilpatrick, a firm believer in consensus, had previously formed an advisory group to serve in a coordinated effort to solve the district’s problems. Kilpatrick had also met with Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and Deputy Mayor Nettie Seabrooks to receive a list of federal priorities for the city. House Minority Leader Curtis Hertel, a democrat from Detroit, recalled how Kilpatrick had distinguished herself in the Michigan Legislature by developing relationships with Republicans and Democrats, further stating that her expertise would be missed.
Kilpatrick, still developing her legislative agenda in August of 1996, did state with certainty that it would focus on employment opportunities, decent wages, and health care. Upon election, she traveled early on to Capitol Hill, lobbying for committee assignments in the hope of working with businesses to create jobs for young people. While Kilpatrick was desirous at that time of serving on the House Commerce Committee because of her interest in the business community, she was also considering a spot on the Appropriations Committee, where Mayor Dennis Archer wanted to see her. As it turned out by late November, Kilpatrick had won an appointment to the high-profile House Banking and Financial Services Committee and was named as one of the leaders of the incoming members of Congress. Kilpatrick was also named as the interim vice chair of the Democratic freshman caucus. Only four other new members of Congress had been appointed to the Banking Committee with Kilpatrick, which was making news for its investigation of the Whitewater land deal.
Kilpatrick, who usually starts her day out on the right foot with a brisk walk, similarly worked to start her congressional career out with a highly experienced staff. Ever true to her collaborative nature, Kilpatrick told a Detroit News reporter that, “We can’t afford not to continue to work together. I want to use all the resources that are available to me.” As an additional bonus to Kilpatrick, she entered the U.S. House with her former classmate Debbie Stabenow, who had also served on Michigan’s House of Representatives since 1979 with Kilpatrick. Together with U.S. Representative Lynn Rivers, a Democrat from Ann Arbor, this marked the first time in history that there were three women from Michigan in Congress, another first for Kilpatrick.
While in Congress, Kilpatrick is expected to continue her work with educational and transportation issues; however, she also plans to focus her efforts heavily on creating employment opportunities for workers in her district, along with improving wages through economic development and ensuring adequate and affordable health care for Detroit residents. In this regard, Kilpatrick formed an advisory committee of key groups in her district months before the actual election to Congress so as to formulate plans for her first term. Her advisory members included representatives from General Motors, Wayne State University, local hospitals, and neighborhood groups. One of Kilpatrick’s first projects in Congress was expected to be the pursuit of funding for a high-speed rail system and an expanded city airport, at the urging of Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, in order to ease growing road and air congestion. Additionally while in Congress, Kilpatrick was expected to seek the promotion of policies designed to support economic development, create new jobs, bolster the wages of working families, and improve the access and affordability of health care, especially for the poor and disadvantaged. It was Kilpatrick’s hope to encourage investment in such projects from her seat on the Banking and Financial Services Committee, where she is expected to be a strong voice for businesses in large cities such as Detroit.
Strongly committed to representing her entire district, including the upper class communities of Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Farms and Hamtramck, Kilpatrick once told Detroit News reporters that, “I think America’s problems are all in the 15th Congressional District. We have some of the richest and the poorest. We have to use these resources to build employment opportunities, to build opportunities for our young people and to offer security and a decent lifestyle for our seniors.”
In her rare leisure hours, Kilpatrick enjoys reading and traveling. Her son Kwame ran for office and won his mother’s old seat in Michigan’s state legislature. Kilpatrick’s daughter, Ayanna, is a graduate of Hampton University who works with senior citizens in Detroit. Says Kilpatrick to a reporter for Ebony magazine, “Many of Detroit’s jewels are in our 15th Congressional District— the number one corporation in the world, General Motors, an international waterway, and Wayne State University. I plan to use partnering and coalition-building to work with all of these entities, getting the best out of them to serve the people of this district.” True to her promise of listening to upper class concerns, Kilpatrick met with officials from Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Park, and Grosse Pointe Farms after entering Congress in a move hailed as an opportunity to improve the region overall. The meeting, held at the Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms was attended by mayors of the three cities, who looked forward to working with Kilpatrick, stating that they felt she was receptive to their concerns, including the pollution of Lake St. Clair, taking Grosse Pointe Park off the 100-year flood plain, and expanding City Airport. Kilpatrick also met with some members of her earlier formed advisory committee for the district during her visit.
Kilpatrick’s success, the result of her dedication, determination, and skillful abilities, remains largely attributable, however, to her diplomatic approach in working with all people, whether democrats or republican, rich or poor. Kilpatrick continues to believe, after her many years in politics, that it is important for all communities in her district to work together, stating her belief that, “The best public policy is bipartisan.” It would appear that Kilpatrick will be the individual to bring the many factions of her district together to accomplish mutual goals.
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Reports, Nov 9, 1996, v. 54, p. 39; Jan 4, 1997, v. 55, p. 68
The Detroit News, Apr 24 1991, p. IB; May 17, 1991, p. 1B; May 24,
1991, p. 8B; May 29, 1991, p. IB; May 31, 1991, p. 2B; June 21, 1991,
pp. 1B, 2B; Jul 7, 1994, p. 4B; Aug 1, 1996, p. 1A; Aug 2, 1996, p. 1C;
Aug 29, 1996, p. 4A; Nov 7, 1996, p. 5A; Nov 23, 1996, p. 4A; Apr 24, 1997, p.3C.
Ebony, Jan, 1997, p 4.
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