DETROIT – A week before Kwame Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to a pair of charges in his perjury case and resigned as Detroit mayor, City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. was making the rounds and shaking hands at the Democratic National Convention.
He wasn't a delegate, but the three-term councilman — who now will become mayor — was representing Detroit at the venue Kilpatrick wasn't allowed to attend because of bond conditions in one of his criminal cases.
While at the convention, Cockrel said he would be prepared to step in as mayor.
"That's a charter-mandated responsibility I have as council president, and I'm prepared to fulfill it," Cockrel said at the time.
Cockrel had months to prepare for taking over as mayor of the nation's 11th-largest city. Speculation about Kilpatrick's ouster from office began shortly after news of sexually explicit text messages between him and then-top aide Christine Beatty surfaced in late January. Under the Detroit City Charter, the council president fills any void in the mayor's office until an election could be held.
On Thursday, Cockrel asked Detroit residents to put aside all the anger and bitterness of the scandal at a news conference held a few hours after Kilpatrick pleaded guilty and agreed to leave office.
If Cockrel plans to run for the office he now gets to temporarily hold, he has an opportunity to show voters if he has the skills necessary to run a city of 900,000 residents and about 15,000 employees.
Cockrel acknowledged the trip to Denver gave him an opportunity to network and build a base for a possible run for mayor. A special primary could be held within 90 days or in February, with a general election in May.
"Certainly being out here does have value from that standpoint, but that's not the primary reason why I'm here," he told an Associated Press reporter. "The primary reason why I'm here is I see it as a historic occasion and I want to be part of it."
While the three-term councilman and former Wayne County commissioner has no political experience outside Detroit, he does bring an air of truth and honesty to an office that has lacked both at times over the past seven years.
His father, Ken Cockrel Sr., was a symbol of integrity during his years as a civil rights attorney and in his stint on the City Council in the late 1970s.
As Council president, Cockrel has preached openness in the board's dealings, presenting himself to the public as a city leader above reproach. Not surprisingly, that was in contrast to Kilpatrick, who had found himself mired in scandal after scandal during his nearly two terms as mayor.
Kilpatrick agreed to step down Thursday after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors in his perjury case.
Cockrel, 42, was one of five council members who voted in May to ask Gov. Jennifer Granholm to force Kilpatrick out for misconduct. At the time, he said he voted for the resolution because "an extreme situation like this calls for an extreme measure." That hearing started Wednesday.
Cockrel is a graduate of Detroit's Wayne State University. He abandoned a career as a print reporter and spent two years on the Wayne County Commission. He won his first city council election in 1997 and took over the presidency as the top vote-getter in 2005.
As council president, Cockrel has brought a higher level of decorum over the past three years to the historically rancorous group. However, he has been criticized for his inability to control some of the personalities on the board, especially that of Council President Pro Tem Monica Conyers. Conyers now takes over as council president.
The two have frequently butted heads over a number of issues, but their differing stances on how to approach the Kilpatrick situation increased the tension on the council.
Conyers publicly called Cockrel "Shrek" — as in the ornery green-headed ogre of animated movie fame — during a televised public hearing in April.
Cockrel appears to have a good working relationship with other members of the council, including Sheila Cockrel, his father's widow.