Tlaib vs. Jones: 13th Congressional Primary Pits “Squad” Member Against City Council President

Michigan’s primaries feature a rematch between U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a frequent Trump critic and member of the progressive “Squad,” and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who vows to work with people without antagonizing them.

Colin Jackson
Colin Jackson

In a modest Detroit neighborhood, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is campaigning door-to-door.

It’s part of Michigan’s 13th Congressional district, which includes a wide stretch of the city and some of its suburbs.

Tlaib says greeting constituents here in-person during a pandemic can be a bit tricky.

One woman “goes, ‘We gotta take a picture!’ So I said nope, put your mask on. So she came down [and] we just did a selfie from her door. So that way worked out fine,” Tlaib says.

The only Palestinian-American woman ever elected to Congress, Tlaib’s already become a political star.

“All I can do is represent my community. And they’re asking me to speak loudly and very unapologetically.” – Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)

She found funding to improve drinking water and marched with those protesting police brutality.

But Tlaib’s best-known as one of the four first-term, progressive women of color in the U.S. House who are dubbed, “The Squad.”

Interview: Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib on Aug. 4th primary.

“It’s not like we only look different but we also talk differently,” Tlaib said. “We also serve differently and we feel differently. All I can do is represent my community. And they’re asking me to speak loudly and very unapologetically.”

Setting a different tone

Tlaib words went viral when she famously, and rather colorfully, vowed to impeach President Donald Trump.

But her challenger in the upcoming Democratic primary says calling Trump names does not help fix problems in Detroit.

“I’m interested in starting a squad myself, a squad of the people that have the poorest districts in the United States of America.” – Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones

City Council President Brenda Jones says some voters are pushing her to run and set a different tone in Congress.

“It will allow me to not embarrass the people in the 13th Congressional district,” says Jones.

Sandra Svoboda/WDET
Sandra Svoboda/WDET

The majority African American district is one of the poorest in the nation, hit hard by job losses and the novel coronavirus.

Jones announced in April she had tested positive for Covid-19. She’s relying on direct mail and virtual campaigning, a tough task in a city where many cannot afford having internet at home.

Interview: City Council Chair Brenda Jones on the Aug. 4th primary.

Yet Jones says she’s already spent years building a reputation for helping poor communities.

“I’m interested in starting a squad myself, a squad of the people that have the poorest districts in the United States of America. That would be my squad,” Jones said.

Praise and polarization

Jones actually served in Congress for a month-and-a-half, filling the seat vacated by former Rep. John Conyers amid allegations of sexual harassment. She lost to Tlaib by one percent in a crowded field vying for the full two-year term. Since then Tlaib has raised both her national profile and millions of dollars of campaign cash.

Some Jewish groups threatened to back whoever ran against Tlaib after she called for a boycott of Israel. Yet Jones has praised Louis Farrakhan, known for his anti-Semitic remarks.

Laura Herberg/WDET
Laura Herberg/WDET

So the editor of the Detroit Jewish News, Andrew Lapin, says those donors are staying on the sidelines despite their opinion of Tlaib.

She’s viewed as “an enemy of Israel, an enemy of the Jewish people, someone that should be stopped at all costs,” Lapin said. “But because Jones is perceived as being very close to Farrakhan, many Jews kind of see this race as being between a rock and a hard place.”

But campaigning door-to-door, passing out sanitizer and tips on where to vote, Tlaib is a hit at every home she visits.

People stop their cars to pose for pictures with her and homeowners rush out onto their porch to greet her.

“You’re doing a great job,” one man tells her. “I’m a political guy. I didn’t grow up like that. But these times? They make you like that.”

In a nearby park Detroiter Robert Patterson says he’s lived in the district for half-a-century.

He says, in the current political climate, Detroit needs Tlaib. And Jones.

“Both of them are equally suited for the positions that they are now. And I don’t see any reason to change,” Patterson said.

In this heavily-Democratic district, the verdict will come far sooner than November. Historically whoever wins the Democratic primary wins the general election as well.

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  • Quinn Klinefelter is a Senior News Editor at 101.9 WDET. In 1996, he was literally on top of the news when he interviewed then-Senator Bob Dole about his presidential campaign and stepped on his feet.