The announcement from U.S. Rep. John Conyers that his 53-year tenure in Congress ended, in the midst of sexual harassment charges, opens up what could be a free-for-all for his seat.
Even while Republican Gov. Rick Snyder weighs potential dates for a special election to fill the seat, several contestants have already entered the race and a dozen more are being mentioned as potential candidates.
Two potential contenders have the same last name — Conyers’ son John III and his great-nephew state Sen. Ian Conyers, D-Detroit. Ian has already indicated he plans to seek the seat. John III, endorsed by his father at the time of his resignation, has not committed to run.
“There is no guarantee that anyone named Conyers is going to be the next congressman representing Detroit,” said Sam Riddle, a Detroit political consultant and community activist. “We’re on the verge for the biggest free-for-all politically you’ve ever seen in the city of Detroit.”
State Sen. Coleman Young, who recently lost a lopsided bid to replace Mike Duggan as mayor of Detroit, announced Friday he will run for the seat. Another familiar political name, Young is the son of the late Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young.
It’s possible whoever wins the seat might have only a few short years in office. Michigan is widely expected to lose a congressional seat after the 2020 Census, going from 14 members to 13. And if Republicans still control the process of redrawing the legislative lines, there is an even better possibility that lawmakers will try to combine two districts — the 13th and 14th congressional districts — that represent portions of Detroit.
“From everything I’ve seen, it’s pretty well agreed upon that Michigan will lose a congressional seat after the 2020, unless we were to see an incredible jump in population in the next couple of years,” said Pleasant Ridge demographer Kurt Metzger.
Detroit political consultant Steve Hood predicted that U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, who currently represents the 14th District, will end up with most of Detroit after the 2020 census.
“This person (who wins Conyers’ seat) is, at max, two terms,” Hood said.
Besides the two Conyers and Young, other Democrats being mentioned include Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield and Council President Brenda Jones, former state Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Shanelle Jackson, both of Detroit, state Sen. David Knezek of Dearborn Heights, Westland Mayor William Wild, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and former U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke of Detroit. Detroit attorney Michael Gilmore has said he is already in the race.
The district, which covers a portion of Detroit and the Wayne County cities of River Rouge, Ecorse, Redford Township, Dearborn Heights, Highland Park, Westland, Garden City, Inkster, Wayne and Romulus, leans heavily Democratic and Conyers’ slimmest margin of victory was 77% in 2016.
Hood said a ballot crowded with Detroit candidates could create opportunities for a suburban resident to emerge as the victor.
“It splits the Detroit vote,” Hood said. “The actual largest voting bloc outside of Detroit is Westland, which opens it up for William Wild. It opens it up for David Knezek.”
Wild said he thought about the congressional seat before the last election, when rumors began circulating that Conyers might not run for re-election, but he decided against getting into the race.
Horace Sheffield, who lost to Conyers in the August 2014 primary election, said his daughter Mary Sheffield is, obviously, his first choice.
Clarke, who lost his seat to redistricting in 2012, said the need is great in Michigan and returning to elective office is a distinct possibility.
“People have begged me to run for office again for the last year and a half,” he said. “It’s very clear to me that there are more and more people in need. So I’m strongly considering seeking public office again.”
Voters not Politicians is near its goal for petition signatures to shift the redistricting duties to an independent, bipartisan commission. If the signatures are approved by the Secretary of State and state Board of Canvassers, it could appear on the November 2018 general election ballot.
“I hope we have nonpartisan redistricting by 2020,” Metzger said. “I really believe if it gets on the ballot that people in the state will vote for it. And if it doesn’t, there is always a possibility that the Democrats will be in control. Who knows what’s going to happen?”