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'Hip hop mayor' aims to rev Motor City engine

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In A quest for backers to build a five-star downtown hotel, Detroit's new mayor Kwame Kilpatrick recently went to Dubai, on the Persian Gulf. There he got a taste of the challenge before him.

" 'Detroit?' " he recounts a Dubai businessman asking him. " 'Isn't it dangerous there?' And that was in the Middle East! We talked about the news media, then he backed off."

That small victory cleared the way for serious negotiations to begin on the kind of investment Mayor Kilpatrick had set his sights on.

It was vintage Kilpatrick – bold, charming, direct, and determined to succeed. At 32, he's the youngest mayor of a major US city. In his first six months, he's taken on his job with all the vigor and – some would say – bravado expected of someone his age.

Indeed, he's made it clear he has big ideas, pledging to rev up Motor City's fortunes despite its status as one of the nation's most distressed cities.

And he's counting on his youth to help do it. He inspired Detroit's young people, who turned out in huge numbers to give him his victory. And he's riled up quite a few of the old, managing to unite against him the entire City Council.With his sparkling diamond earring and imposing football physique – 6-ft., 4- in. and 300 pounds – he looks more like a rap star than a civic leader. Comedian Chris Rock called him America's first hip-hop mayor.

"I think it says something on the surface that's humorous, but there's really a lot of substance in that statement," says Kilpatrick, sitting comfortably in the lobby of the once-all-white Detroit Yacht Club. "Finally, someone from the Run DMC generation from the '80's generation, has made it into some of the political circles that we don't look like we belong in."

While he may not look like he belongs behind the mayor's desk, Kilpatrick is certainly no stranger to politics. He says he knew when he was 9 that he wanted to be mayor and ran his first campaign at 13 – for his mother's bid for re-election to the Michigan House. She's now Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick. His father Bernard Kilpatrick is a former county commissioner in Detroit. Both are close confidants to their son – and he's quick to acknowledge the role "vertical connections" have played in his career.

School teacher to state house

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