Race to Replace Conyers Comes Down to the Wire

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For the first time in a half-century Detroit Democrats face a primary ballot without civil rights icon John Conyers. He resigned from the U.S. House amid sex abuse allegations. And the candidate floodgates have opened to replace him, with no holds barred.

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Experts believed the race for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, which includes portions of Detroit and the western edge of Wayne County, would be dominated by Detroit’s John Conyers,

After all, he’d been a fixture in Congress for more than 50 years.

But claims of sexual harassment drove Conyers from office, leaving the seat open for most of this year and requiring two separate elections to fill the rest of his term and select a full-time successor.

And a flood of candidates are vying to fill the void.

Melissa Mason
Melissa Mason

John Conyers called a Detroit radio station last December to announce he was resigning from Congress amid allegations of sexual abuse.

But he said his accomplishments as a civil rights icon would still live on in a very tangible way. 

I want you to know that my legacy will continue through my children,” the co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus said.

And especially in my oldest boy, John Conyers III, who, incidentally, I endorse to replace me in my seat in Congress.”

But the younger Conyers was knocked off the Democratic primary ballot before voting even began by one of his relatives.

State Sen. Ian Conyers successfully challenged the validity of his cousin’s petition signatures, ensuring that he would be the only one bearing that famous name on the primary ballot.

And it quickly became a very crowded field.

Quinn Klinefelter/WDET
Quinn Klinefelter/WDET

Fellow state legislator Coleman Young II, son of a legendary Detroit mayor and fresh from a losing bid to take the top job at City Hall, dashed to enter the race so fast that he simply cut off the mayoral part of a campaign sign to hang on the podium where he announced his run for Congress.

Yet a separate trio of candidates have emerged as the frontrunners.

Brenda JonesSandra Svoboda
Sandra Svoboda

Brenda Jones


Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones gained support from unions, members of the clergy and Mayor Mike Duggan.

Jones says she helped push the city past its historic bankruptcy.

And what worked for Detroit, Jones maintains, will work for all of the 13th Congressional District.

 “What I see is that our quality of life is depending on our zip codes. And (even) being the most challenged, the poorest district in the state of Michigan, we were able in the city of Detroit to hire 15 police officers just from resources from D.C.,” Jones said. “And that’s just one issue. I know there are (other) resources in D.C. that we can get.”

Rashida TlaibLaura Weber Davis/WDET
Laura Weber Davis/WDET

Rashida Tlaib

Competing candidate and former Michigan lawmaker Rashida Tlaib has already gained serious resources for herself, raising plenty of campaign cash and securing endorsements from national Democratic progressives.

If elected, Tlaib would be the first American Muslim woman to enter Congress.

And Tlaib vows she will vote to impeach President Donald Trump.

She says the Commander in Chief is pushing the country away from what Michigan needs.

Tlaib said, “I have always felt a need to be at the table, especially when it came to my neighborhood where I grew up. And many families in the 13th Congressional District are the direct target of this Administration. Policies that have been implemented now have tremendous negative effect on our families.”

Bill WildWDET

Bill Wild

Westland Mayor Bill Wild says those kind of problems target more than just one neighborhood.


Wild is the only white candidate running in a district made up mostly by people of color.

He lost a bid for Wayne County Executive in 2014.

But Wild says that campaign showed him he would be accepted by many voters in the 13th Congressional District because they all face similar concerns.

The one thing that we hear universally in just about any one of the 12 cities is the condition of the roads. And I know that sounds passe’ because we talk about it so much,” Wild said. “But people talk about access to opportunity. There are a lot of people in the district that are stuck in low-paying jobs, that are really struggling to get ahead because of the high cost of health insurance. Those are the type of issues that cross over those boundaries and affect all the cities in the district.”

The crowded campaign field also includes former state representative Shanelle Jackson.

She now works for the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.

And Jackson says she’s helped that company become a better partner with the community, adding that she combines the firsthand knowledge of being raised by a single mother with the business know-how necessary to help lure investment to the district.

Yet a recent poll by the firm EPICMRA shows the race tightening primarily between Jones, Tlaib and Wild, while breaking along traditional geographic and demographic lines.

Detroiters and African Americans surveyed support Council President Jones. Suburban voters and whites lean toward Westland Mayor Wild.

But EPIC-MRA President Bernie Porn says one factor that typically helps dictate a campaign – name recognition – does not seem to be doing much in this race for those with the politically-renown surnames of Conyers or Young.

No it doesn’t. We asked a number of questions about the favorability and recognition of all the candidates. And Ian Conyers has a 21 percent favorable rating, 26 percent unfavorable. And 53 percent say they never heard of him and have no opinion of him,” Porn said. “And Coleman Young also had an unfavorable rating of 53 percent.”

Porn estimates that the contest remains too close to call.

But one thing is a near-certainty.

In the heavily-Democratic district, no matter who else runs in November, whoever wins the party primary will almost assuredly carry the general election as well.


Click on the audio link above to hear the full story

Quinn Klinefelter, Senior News Editor

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.


 2018 Elections in Michigan

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