Michigan’s 5th District is sending another Democrat to the House, and not only that, it’s sending one from the same family as the current occupant. When Rep. Dale Kildee retires after 36 years of service in January 2013, nephew Dan Kildee will take his place.
The younger Kildee grew up in a close-knit neighborhood in Flint. There were six children in his family, and so many in the neighborhood—48 elementary school-aged kids lived on Kildee’s West Genesee Street—that they formed their own football team, the Genesee Jets. He carried that athleticism into high school and became a captain of the hockey team, but says he never really fit in with the jocks. “Some kids hang out at the gym or at the ballpark or at the pool, and I would every two years hang out at the campaign headquarters,” he said in an interview. He worked on his uncle’s campaigns for the state Legislature and for Congress, spending many hours distributing yard signs.
After high school, Kildee enrolled at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus and worked part-time at a treatment facility for emotionally disturbed children. That job became full-time and Kildee dropped out of college, although he returned in 2007 to Central Michigan University to earn a bachelor’s degree in administration. Kildee also was elected to the Flint Board of Education as a college freshman. “I’d go to visit the schools and I’d quite literally get asked for a hall pass,” he said. During his more than seven years on the board, he fought unsuccessfully for a ban on corporal punishment, which the state Legislature outlawed soon after he left the post.
Sticking with local politics, Kildee served as a commissioner in Genesee County from 1985 to 1997 before becoming county treasurer and founding a local land bank. His method for tackling abandoned properties—getting rid of them—brought him national attention. Though he saw the idea as “a common-sense approach to urban planning in an age of decline,” others viewed it as “a radically un-American idea that embraces defeat and limited horizons,” according to a 2010 profile of Kildee in Slate. That year, he entered the Michigan governor’s race, but dropped out after less than a month, saying he wanted to avoid a fractious primary fight.
He stayed in the public policy realm, however, as the cofounder of the Center for Community Progress, a nonprofit organization that recommends policy solutions to cities and towns across the country. In May 2012, he took a leave of absence to run for the House seat and was instantly regarded as a strong contender, given his family name and years of public service. Several prominent Democrats, including former Rep. James Barcia, considered a challenge, but Kildee ultimately ran in the primary unopposed. He then had little trouble dispatching Republican former state Rep. Jim Slezak in the general election.
Kildee said he would like to sit on committees that deal with urban policy, such as the Financial Services Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Catherine Hollander contributed to this article.