DETROIT – Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick overcame doubts about his leadership and judgment as voters gave him the second chance he asked for in a come-from-behind victory in Tuesday's election.
Kilpatrick's win came after the charismatic 35-year-old mayor placed second behind challenger Freman Hendrix in the August primary and trailed in recent polls.
His election was on the same day the Justice Department announced it was investigating potential absentee ballot voting irregularities in Detroit.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Kilpatrick had 117,354 votes, or 53 percent, and Hendrix had 103,446 votes, or 47 percent. Early returns had shown Hendrix with a 12-point lead.
About 2:30 a.m. EST, as his lead widened, Kilpatrick rallied his supporters at the Renaissance Center along the Detroit River, delivering in essence a victory speech to boisterous cheers.
"We'll be marching forward, we'll be reaching out to everyone, we'll be rising up and standing strong," Kilpatrick said. "Detroit's best days are ahead of us."
About a half hour earlier, Hendrix addressed supporters at his post-election party at the State Theatre. He said the venue had to close, but told them to head home and stay upbeat.
"I remain optimistic, I remain positive and I remain a candidate," he said to rounds of applause.
In August's nonpartisan primary, Hendrix had topped Kilpatrick 44 percent to 34 percent. But Kilpatrick gained ground as the election neared.
The drama of Election Day also included action in court as the Justice Department obtained an order for the secretary of state to preserve at least 45,000 absentee ballots, the applications to get them and the envelopes in which they were sent. The order was requested on behalf of the FBI.
The Justice Department said it was investigating allegations that votes were cast in the names of dead people and that the city clerk improperly helped incapacitated people to vote by absentee ballot.
The election comes as the nation's 11th-largest city struggles with poverty and decades of population decline. The city is facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit and the possibility of financial receivership.
Four years after becoming one of the city's youngest mayors, Kilpatrick found himself asking voters for forgiveness — and another chance — after a scandal-plagued first term. He sees himself at the helm of a city dealing with its problems and heading in the right direction.
Hendrix, who was deputy mayor under Kilpatrick's predecessor, made it a campaign refrain that he wouldn't embarrass the city if elected. He focused attention on the city's troubled finances, laying the blame for much of it on Kilpatrick.
Life in the city — and whether voters think it's better or worse since Kilpatrick was elected — has been a focus in the campaign. Crime is down, but is high compared with many other U.S. cities.
Voter Jewel Womack said Kilpatrick is doing a good job for the city but hasn't had enough time to prove himself.
"We need some young ideas, and everybody makes some mistakes," Womack, a 69-year-old retired Chrysler worker, said after voting. "You have to give a person a little rope."
But Hansen Hunter, 46, said he voted for Hendrix because Kilpatrick is "arrogant" and "immature."
The Wayne State University student said he wanted "less fat cat ... less family and friends, more job opportunities and less haves and have nots."
Some city services have improved under Kilpatrick, who touts getting the grass cut in parks and plowing snow from streets among his administration's successes. New homes and downtown construction speak to revitalization efforts, but blight pervades many neighborhoods.
Kilpatrick is a lawyer and former schoolteacher who played football at Florida A&M and has a mother in Congress. He swiftly rose through the state House of Representatives to the mayor's office, but had a challenging first term.
Kilpatrick has implied that the media is out to get him with scrutiny that included his use of a city credit card on expensive out-of-town travel and a city lease of a luxury sport utility vehicle for his family. And he has tried to shake the label of "hip-hop mayor," removing his trademark diamond earring.
Hendrix, 55, is a career bureaucrat who earned a business degree from Eastern Michigan University on the GI Bill after a four-year stint in the Navy. After leaving former Mayor Dennis Archer's administration, he worked at a Detroit-based consulting firm until stepping down in 2004 to pursue his mayoral bid.
In addition to budget problems, Detroit faces a continuing population decline that started a half-century ago. It now has just more than 900,000 residents, compared with 1.8 million in 1950, and earlier this year was listed as the nation's most impoverished big city.