State Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit) won the Democratic primary in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District. His victory will likely be secured in the midterm elections — the Wayne County-based district is seen as a Democratic stronghold.
“I am excited. This is really the people’s verdict,” Thanedar told WDET from his home in Detroit. “I am ready to serve. I want to go to the halls of Congress and fight for the people of my district.”
Thanedar won the district, which contains much of Detroit, the Grosse Pointes and several Downriver communities with 28% of the vote. The former businessman self-funded his campaign, committing $5 million to run for office. While he outspent all eight of his opponents in the field combined, Thanedar says he owes much of his success to direct outreach.
“I would go to Russell Woods, which is not too far from where I live, and I would spend three hours at a jazz concert in a park. And I would make sure I’d criss-cross that entire park and have conversations with as many people as I can,” says Thanedar. “It’s not unusual for me to have 150 conversations, talking to real people, one-on-one.”
Thanedar immigrated from India and lived in Ann Arbor for several years. His critics have lamented the loss of representation that Black Democrats from Detroit enjoyed in Congress for nearly 70 years. While he shares those concerns, Thanedar says he remains determined to enact legislation that can serve the community he represents, such as reparations, an increase in the federal minimum wage and voting rights.
“I have seen a lot of love, a lot of warmth,” says Thanedar. “That just makes my resolve to go fight for them even harder.”
Listen: Shri Thanedar on reparations, representation in Congress and campaign finance reform.
WDET’s Eli Newman spoke with Shri Thanedar on his recent win. Read an excerpt of their conversation, edited for brevity and clarity, below.
Eli Newman, WDET: You had pockets of success all over the district, but I think you did particularly well in the Downriver communities. Is there anything you attribute that success to?
State Rep. Shri Thanedar: Actually, I won the entire district. This is the third time I’m winning the city of Detroit. In the gubernatorial primary over Gretchen Whitmer and [Abdul] El-Sayed, I won the city of Detroit. Then my state rep district is 90% African American, and I won that in a multi-candidate race. And now for the third time, the people of Detroit have put their faith in me and allowed me to win the city of Detroit. I also have a wide appeal in the Downriver communities — Allen Park, Taylor, Romulus, Southgate, all over the place. So it’s across racial divides, it’s across age, across gender. Our campaign was very people-centric. We really didn’t go after endorsements. Our focus was just reaching people directly.
In those conversations, were there any particular policies that you focused on that you want your constituents to be able to hold you to should you be elected to Congress?
Absolutely. Our district is 30% at or below poverty. In a nation that’s the richest in the world, we still have people that are struggling with health care, struggling with putting food on the table, not having transportation to go to their doctors, making money that is not enough for them to live a respectable, decent life. The wealth gap that we see in the community is unacceptable. And we need to make that level playing field. And some of the impact of generations of decades of institutional racism that has played to rob the community of their right to the American dream.
Does that mean that you are supportive of reparations legislation? And if so, how do you think that legislation would manifest?
Well as an example, I co-sponsored two bills on reparations in the Michigan House. What we proposed was a racial equity and reparation fund, and this fund would have about $1.5 billion in it. And the purpose of this fund would be to help Black Americans start their own businesses.
I think it’s clear for anybody who has watched that you have pretty big political aspirations. When you think about yourself, is there a particular political figure that you model yourself after that you would like to emulate?
Where do I start? There’s so many. John Lewis, certainly. John Conyers, a legend in what he has done for civil rights, what he has done for the community, for the people of Detroit. He’s the one that introduced the reparations bill every year, every Congress while he served. I really want to work on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and make that our fight and help others to make that into law.
I can’t help but notice that some of the figures that you just named are some of the most prominent African American politicians in U.S, history. And with your ascent in this primary, Detroit stands to lose African American representation, a thing that it’s had for more than 50 years. What do you say to people that are worried about the lack of having someone who is Black, someone who is African American in Congress from Detroit?
I share that concern. There should be proper representation in Congress. I don’t think we have enough representation in Congress for women. We have far less women in Congress. We have far less people of color in Congress. I understand the concern.
But look, this seat is owned by the people of the 13th District. And my thought, simply, was let democracy take its course and let the people decide and they will say what they want. And that’s how it should be.
A majority of African Americans chose me. My House District is 90% African American, and they have absolutely no problem choosing me. And I delivered to them. I never missed a single House session. I never missed a single committee meeting in Lansing. I never missed a vote in a committee. Never missed a vote in the House. So that’s the kind of work ethic you get. And when I ran for Congress, my House district is entirely in the 13th District and that district overwhelmingly supported me.
You’re someone who has largely self-funded their campaign. Have you found that that is something that has been an appealing feature for you, that there isn’t this worry about corporate influence or anything like that?
I haven’t heard so much conversation about that. People are more worried about the sidewalks and people are worried about transportation. And fixing roofs, needing money to pay for home repairs. The cost of milk or gasoline. I’m hearing more of those concerns.
But I do believe we need campaign finance reform. I do believe that public financing is the right thing to do. And I do feel that the dark money, the billionaires putting their money into super PACs and then the super PACs coming and interfering with Democratic primaries, it just isn’t very conducive to a democratic process and that all needs to change.
Photo credit: Michael Buck/Wood-TV8 via AP, POOL, File