DETROIT – Former Detroit Deputy Mayor Freeman Hendrix (search) is leading the polling among 11 candidates scheduled to take part in the city's open primary on Tuesday.
Hendrix is also besting Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (search) in a head-to-head match-up. According to a July 24-27 EPIC-MRA poll, 55 percent back Hendrix compared to 34 percent who support Kilpatrick. Eleven percent are undecided.
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The poll, conducted for WXYZ-TV, surveyed 400 people over the telephone and had margin of error of 5 percentage points. Among the 12 candidates, the top two vote-getters in Tuesday's face off will meet in the Nov. 8 general election.
With the election near, Kilpatrick dismisses the polls. Like his city, he says he is familiar with criticism.
"This is a political campaign so people are gonna blame a lot of things on you," he said.
Called the "hip hop mayor" for his vibrant, stylish ways, Kilpatrick has suffered a reversal of political fortune since being ushered into office in 2001 as the toast of the town.
Four years later, under Kilpatrick's leadership, the city faces a $300 million deficit while the mayor has run up eye-popping bills for business travel and entertainment.
"Kwame Kilpatrick is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep limos idling while he is at posh discos and nightclubs in Washington and Atlanta," said communications professor Jack Lessenberry of Wayne State University.
Kilpatrick insists the spending has brought business and big events to Detroit.
"Final Four, All-Star game, NAACP convention, AKA, World Womens' Bowling Congress, Frozen Four, the wrestling championships. That was all the Kilpatrick administration making presentations getting those national shows," he said.
Hendrix doesn't have Kilpatrick's showmanship, but he said he figures he will be one of the two top vote-getters on Tuesday, meaning he will head to the November general election.
"You know what you got now. If you want four more years of that, go ahead," Hendrix said.
Another challenger being watched by local political observers is Detroit City Councilwoman Sharon McPhail (search), who also hammers Kilpatrick's free-wheeling style.
"Well, no community rises above the image of it's leadership. It never did and it never will," McPhail said.
Kilpatrick has tried to tone down his party-throwing image, hoping voters will see him more as a strong leader and family man. But even with changes in his behavior, Kilpatrick will be faced with tackling the persistent problems in the city, including crime, poverty and joblessness if he wins the election.
"Detroit is going to have a very long, hard slog no matter who is the mayor," Lessenberry said.