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DETROIT - At a time when Detroit needs its suburbs more than ever, the long-standing rivalry between the city and its surrounding towns is hitting another rough patch.
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, facing a tough re-election fight, last week caused a controversy when he singled out two school districts in neighboring Oakland County as having higher rates of drug use than Detroit's.
"In Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills and all these places, they do more meth, they do more Ecstasy and they do more acid than all the schools in the city of Detroit put together," Kilpatrick said Thursday during the first of three planned debates with challenger Freman Hendrix.
County and school district officials lashed out at the mayor Friday, saying the statement was irresponsible, and requested a public apology.
"Those comments insulted the residents of Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, insulted the students and impugned the reputation of two of our finest, exemplary school districts," said Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.
Patterson said Kilpatrick's comments were reminiscent of longtime Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, whom Patterson said refused to develop any kind of relationship with the surrounding communities.
In his January 1974 inaugural speech, Young enraged suburban officials when he encouraged the city's criminals to "hit Eight Mile Road" and leave the city by way of the suburbs. Eight Mile Road is the dividing line between predominantly black and low-income Detroit and its largely white and affluent northern suburbs.
"Kwame has largely been a very affable person to work with, but once in a while he makes comments like these that really hurt relations," Patterson said. "I'll continue to work with him because he's the leader of Michigan's largest city, but he's not going to be on my Christmas card list."
Even before Patterson's demand for an apology, the mayor released a statement late Thursday saying, "Character issues such as drug abuse are not exclusive to Detroit Public Schools. My reference to substance abuse, not intended to focus on any particular school district, was simply used to illustrate this position."
Messages seeking further comment from Kilpatrick were not returned Friday.
Patterson said he doesn't understand why Kilpatrick would make such inflammatory comments about two of Oakland County's most prosperous communities, unless he thought it would win him votes.
Pollster Ed Sarpolus of EPIC/MRA in Lansing said that may be the case.
In the August primary, Hendrix out-polled Kilpatrick 44 percent to 34 percent ? making Kilpatrick the first incumbent mayor to finish second in a primary in at least 60 years.
Sarpolus said that while polls show nearly an even split among black voters between Kilpatrick and Hendrix, both of whom are black, the vast majority of whites and other minorities, which account for about 20 percent of the voting population, prefer Hendrix.
As a result, Kilpatrick may be trying to create an "us versus them" mentality and label his opponent as the suburban candidate in an attempt to swing the black vote in his favor, Sarpolus said.
"Mayor Kilpatrick doesn't care anything about suburban relations right now," Sarpolus said. "He just cares about the election. The problem with comments like this is that they're only made for the moment."
At a news conference Friday afternoon, Hendrix said Kilpatrick's drug comments were "inappropriate" and "immature" but it is up to the mayor to apologize.
The general election, which will be held Nov. 8, comes at a time when Detroit's population is still declining. Detroit has lost about half its population since the 1950s, when the city and the American automotive industry were at their peaks. It is now the country's 11th-largest city with about 900,000 residents.
At the same time, the city continues to struggle with problems of crime, unemployment, urban decay and a $300 million budget deficit.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that Detroit was the nation's most impoverished big city in 2004, with more than one-third of its residents living at or below the federal poverty line.
Quote: In his January 1974 inaugural speech, Young enraged suburban officials when he encouraged the city's criminals to "hit Eight Mile Road" and leave the city by way of the suburbs. Eight Mile Road is the dividing line between predominantly black and low-income Detroit and its largely white and affluent northern suburbs.
If I was Mayor of 8-Mile road, I would have issued a statement immediately offering $1,000,000 for the decapitated head of Coleman Young.
Cash, no questions asked.
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