After graduating from Florida A&M and Detroit Law School, he taught in a Detroit public school. But when he was 25, his mother decided to run for Congress, and Kilpatrick ran for her seat in the Michigan House of Representatives and won, largely on her name recognition. But he developed his own reputation as a consensus builder in Lansing, where he was the first African-American to lead a state party.
"Kwame never minced words, but he was never rude," says former state Rep. Sharon Gire. "When you're working with him on issues you never have to question where he is, or whether he'll change his mind if he gets more information."
That reputation helped in his run for Detroit mayor, although he was a long shot with only 20 percent name recognition. His age 30, and just out of braces didn't help either. But he turned his youth to his advantage, tapping young people's frustrations and hopes with his slogan "Our Future.... Right Here, Right Now." He also painted his opponent, City Council President Gil Hill, as a representative of a moribund status quo. With help from nationwide fundraising thanks to his parents' connections and pollsters who suggested he remove the diamond stud earring, Kilpatrick won 54 to 46 percent.
The day after his election in November, he put back the earring, and announced his ambitious agenda: "Kids, Cops, Clean." It aims to improve education and after-school services, overhaul the troubled police department, clean up littered streets, replace thousands of broken street lights, and tear down half the city's 10,000 abandoned homes. Some political analysts think Kilpatrick has already overreached, noting he's had to scale back some of his goals for lack of funding, like the number of tear downs. Then there's the city's notoriously inefficient workforce.
"The whole city administration is screwed up, the bureaucracy is completely corrupted and rotted and Kwame has inherited this," says political analyst Mark Grebner. "If [former Mayor] Dennis Archer, whom I greatly respect couldn't do it, I don't know if Kwame can." But other analysts contend Kilpatrick has something Archer didn't, a "grassroots " connection with Detroiters.