The Southfield Democrat’s decision to not seek re-election sparks a wide-open primary in the largely Black 13th district where state Rep. Shri Thanedar plans to run. In the newly created 12th district, Rep. Rashida Tlaib is running.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Michigan’s only Black member of Congress, will not seek re-election, and her retirement announcement has shaken up the races for the 12th and 13th Congressional Districts. 

In a video statement posted Tuesday night, Lawrence says she knows her retirement from Congress will leave a void in African American representation in the state. 

“It is not lost on me that I’m currently the only Black member of the Michigan congressional delegation in both the House and the Senate,” says the Democrat who represents Michigan’s 14th Congressional District. Though starting next year, Michigan will only have 13 districts after Michigan lost a congressional seat in the last census. It seemed unlikely Lawrence would be the odd person out in a heavily-Democratic — newly redrawn – district. 

So whether it’s in the halls of Congress, city halls or local school boards, representation matters,” says Lawrence, a political fixture in and around Detroit who has been in public office for 30 years and is in her fourth term in the House.  

The move will spark a wide-open Democratic primary in the largely-Black 13th district, which includes the other half of Detroit, the Grosse Pointes and parts of Downriver up for grabs.

State Rep. Shri Thanedar announced his candidacy to fill the seat. The former businessman campaigned against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2018 and is serving his first term in Lansing representing parts of Detroit’s west side, where he moved following his defeat. 

“My ability to self-fund my campaign allows me to be unbossed, not influenced by the corporations and special interests. And I can truly fight for the people of Detroit,” says Thanedar. 

Lawrence’s retirement and Thanedar’s candidacy caught African American political leadership off-guard. 

“Since Brenda Lawrence didn’t prepare us for her exit, now we got [Thanedar], the only one in the race,” says Keith Williams, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus. “I want somebody who is born and bred in and who understands Detroit. The trials and the tribulations. And I want someone who is going to care about the citizens of Detroit and close the wealth gap.” 

“He doesn’t represent my values. To me, he’s a carpetbagger, Williams added. 

Black voters turn out the most, Williams says. In the 2020 presidential election, Black voters in Detroit played a key roleBiden won the city of Detroit with 94% of the vote while Trump received 5%, according to the city of Detroit’s election results. 

“We are the most loyal pocket of votes in the country, and we get dirt thrown in our face,” says Williams. 

“I am committed to a Black member of Congress and I’m working with my constituents to find the right person.” –State Sen. Adam Hollier

In response to Williams’ criticism that the seat that represents the Blackest city in America should go to an African American, Thanedar draws from his experience living in India. 

“I grew up in poverty. I understand what it feels like going to bed hungry every night. I lived in a home that had no running water. We slept on the floor, we ate on the floor. I understand the hardship that many of my constituents go through,” says Thanedar. 

Former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, a Democrat who is now on the Detroit school board, also announced her candidacy for the seat.

State Sen. Adam Hollier’s district is entirely within the 13th Congressional District. He neither confirmed nor denied interest in running for the seat. “I am committed to a Black member of Congress and I’m working with my constituents to find the right person.” 

Democratic State Rep. Abraham Aiyash represents Hamtramck. He says he is “closely following” the field of candidates in the 13th. “I believe that having Black leadership is important.” 

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib announced on Wednesday that she is running for re-election in the newly drawn 12th district, which encompasses parts of Wayne and Oakland Counties, including the west side of Detroit, Dearborn, Southfield and Livonia. In a statement, Tlaib says the newly created 12th District contains two-thirds of her current constituents. 

“I’m excited to campaign on my values of economic justice, clean air and water, and a government run by the people. The 12th contains 2/3 of the people I currently serve and I cannot wait talk with voters in every community in the 12th,” she said in a statement. 

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  • Dorothy Hernandez is Digital Editor for 101.9 WDET, creating digital editorial content. Her love of radio began when she had a radio show in college when she and her roommate played '80s music in the middle of the night.