DETROIT – John Conyers’ resignation from the U.S. House amid sexual harassment allegations unlocks the seat he has held for more than a half-century – and sets off a free-for-all race to replace him with at least three potential legacy candidates, including two relatives of Conyers and a son of a prominent former mayor.
Conyers, had faced growing calls to resign from Democratic leaders and colleagues as he’s been accused by one woman after another, vehemently denies he groped or harassed women who worked for him. As the 88-year-old civil rights leader walks away, he’s also seeking to preserve his legacy, having endorsed his son, political neophyte John Conyers III, to succeed him.
A grand-nephew of Conyers, Michigan state Sen. Ian Conyers, also plans to run. Other names in the mix of possible candidates include Coleman Young II, son of Detroit’s first black mayor, Coleman Young; Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon; and former state Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Shanelle Jackson. Given that Conyers’ heavily Democratic district has changed over the years to incorporate suburbs, the race also could draw Westland Mayor William Wild or state Sen. David Knezek, who represents Dearborn Heights, part of Detroit, and surrounding communities.
Lansing-area Democratic political consultant Joe DiSano said Conyers’ “retirement” – as the longtime lawmaker termed it – happened so abruptly, it has freed up “20-30 years of pent-up ambition.” It also could bring an end to the political stability in the district that came with Conyers’ long years of service and influence as the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
“The bar is set high,” DiSano said. “Whoever wins is going to have to deal with that.”
The seat will sit unfilled until special primary and general elections are held. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has yet to schedule them. The special elections are likely to be held in conjunction with regular election dates in May and August, or August and November. One factor is the potential $1 million extra cost for a special election in May instead of August, when candidates already will be running in primary races.
Asked if he sees the coming election as a once-in-a-generation or once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Young – who said he’s “definitely looking at a run”– said: “Every election’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s a blessing regardless. This opens up the door a lot wider.”
Conyers was first elected to the House in 1964. His resignation left Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska as the longest-serving current House member.
Around a half dozen women have accused Conyers of sexual harassment. The latest came forward Tuesday – the day Conyers resigned. Lisa Bloom, an attorney representing several women who have accused Conyers of sexual misconduct, posted an affidavit from Delores Lyons on Twitter. Lyons told WXYZ-TV that on one occasion Conyers put her hand in his lap while she was driving. She says he touched her inappropriately two other times while she was a Conyers volunteer between 2010 and 2014.
Young said it’s tough for him to square the accusations with Conyers’ legacy. Conyers established the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a federal holiday in 1986 after a 15-year struggle and employed civil rights legend Rosa Parks at his Detroit district office for more than two decades. Still, the state legislator who recently lost a challenge to become Detroit mayor said his “heart breaks for the women and won’t excuse sexual misconduct.”
“You talk about civil liberties, you talk about civil rights and you talk about freedom as a black person and equality, you talk about John Conyers. Those are synonymous with John Conyers,” Young said. “That being said, it doesn’t excuse what happened.”
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