Through a sea of falling streamers and multi-colored balloons, the name “Kildee” could be seen on large banners on election night, cementing a new congressman in the 5th District.
But U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, who was sworn into the 113th U.S. Congress last week, never forgot where he came from.
As a Central Michigan University alum, Kildee was a nontraditional student. He originally studied at the University of Michigan-Flint while holding down a full-time job in public service.
“I started college, and I wanted to run for office right away,” Kildee said. “I ran for public office and became a full-time politician, and because CMU had these programs that were flexible for me, it gave me a chance to be a better version of what I am.”
In 2008, he finished his course work at CMU in Community Development Administration online and off campus through the Flint center.
While taking courses from CMU, he dabbled in philosophy in addition to community administration courses.
In his first year at U of M-Flint, he was thrown into politics when elected to the school board. This led to Kildee serving in an elective office for most of his adult life, with the exception of three years.
Kildee served 11 years as Genesee County treasurer, where he established the county’s Land Bank, creating a model for local governments to take control of abandoned properties. Before that, he spent 12 years on the Genesee County Board of Commissioners.
As Kildee takes office, his predecessor looms large. After 36 years in Congress, U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee- D, Mich. retired, leaving the position vacant for his nephew to fill.
While in Congress, Dale was able to bridge the widening partisan divide by forging relationships with politicians across the political spectrum.
“I guess the most important part of following him is that I hope to continue his approach to the political conversation in this country as a civil, decent way to those who don’t share his opinions,” Kildee said in regard to his uncle’s legacy. “I don’t expect to agree with people, but my plan is to continue to treat people with respect.”
For Dan Kildee, one event pushed him into politics more than anything else: the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in 1968.
“It was in June of that year Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and that moment is just seared in my mind, and I think about that often,” Kildee said. “I feel that particular experience is one that was so compelling that it connected me.”
And so Kildee became the kind of kid who was not interested in watching cartoons but instead was drawn to the turbulent political environment of the 1960s.
With a wife and three children, Kildee has had plenty of support throughout his rise to the U.S. House of Representatives.
He visits Mount Pleasant often because of his daughter, Katy, who attends CMU.
Katy, a Flint junior, majors in photojournalism and is no stranger when it comes to politics.
“It’s always been exciting for me to watch his career and get a peek into such an interesting world, because I have always been interested in politics,” Katy said. “I’ve seen the personal side of politics because of my dad.”
Katy remembers the moments leading up to election night as her father anxiously awaited the results.
“He was a little nervous, which was weird for me,” Katy said. “It was such a happy night, and we were surrounded by everyone we cared about.”
Like her father, Katy also transferred from U of M-Flint, which one of her brothers still attends.
Kildee hopes CMU can help his daughter, like it did for him, to explore her talent and realize this might not be her career for a lifetime.
“One of the things you realize as you get a little older is the university experience is not just to train a particular craft, but it is to open one’s mind and allow you to go on whatever path,” Kildee said. “She became a better version of herself by attending school.”