DETROIT - Voters in financially troubled, scandal-ridden Detroit seemed to be in the mood for change yesterday, as projections showed two-thirds of them voting to replace Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who trailed his main challenger, Freman Hendrix, in a closely watched primary election.
"I want to make Detroit a place where young people want to do some service, where people are proud again," said Mr. Hendrix, 54, who served as deputy mayor and chief operations officer in the previous administration of Dennis Archer. "You can look at me however you want, and you'll never find any wrongdoing," he pledged repeatedly during the campaign.
"This is our city. I've made mistakes, but I've learned from my mistakes, and we are making this a better city," Mr. Kilpatrick argued during the campaign.
Exit polls and a smattering of early returns indicated that Mr. Hendrix was getting about 45 percent of the total vote to 33 percent for Mr. Kilpatrick, whose term in office has been plagued by economic problems and sensational scandal.
Two other well-known candidates, City Councilman Sharon McPhail and state Sen. Hansen Clarke, trailed far behind with about 10 percent each.
All indications were that Mr. Kilpatrick would be the first Detroit mayor since 1945 not to finish first in a primary election. No incumbent mayor has lost a general election since 1961, when black voters were a key factor in ousting a mayor many perceived as racist. The city today is about 85 percent African-American.
Regardless of the final primary numbers, both Mr. Hendrix and Mr. Kilpatrick appeared certain to face off against each other in a November general election that some were calling the most crucial in Detroit's history.
Joseph Harris, the city's auditor general, has warned that the city, which may be facing a budget deficit as high at $300 million, is in danger of falling into receivership, which would mean a takeover by the state.
Mr. Harris made headlines when he charged this spring that the Kilpatrick administration was incapable of even understanding its own budget.
That was hotly denied by Mr. Kilpatrick, a former football tackle and state representative who became the youngest mayor in city history when he was elected in 2001. Mr. Kilpatrick, the son of U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D., Detroit), is a huge man known for the large diamonds he wears in his left earlobe. He was embarrassed this April when Time Magazine called him one of the three worst mayors in the country.
He later admitted some mistakes, such as leasing an expensive Lincoln Navigator for his wife. He also reluctantly admitted spending city funds on expensive out-of-town trips, which included pricey nightclubs and limousines.
But he denied allegations of a wild party with strippers at the mayoral mansion, although he fired the deputy police chief who was investigating the rumors.
Dellashon DiCresce, a 32-year-old mother of five, said she was pleased that the early returns seemed to show the mayor trailing.
"I am glad to see people voting for change," said Mrs. DiCresce, a former math teacher. She said improving the city's image was a major priority.
Jack Lessenberry is The Blade's ombudsman. Contact him at 1-888-746-8610 or e-mail OMBLADE@aol.com.