Of all of the politicians being paraded publicly in this barrage of accusations and allegations, ranging from simple misconduct to criminal offenses, John “The Dean” Conyers has handled his supposed entanglement with more decorum than most.
As difficult as it must have been for Rep. Conyers to make the decision on Sunday to step down as the ranking Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first African American to wield that amount of power and influence in the halls of Congress, we believe he made the right decision. Not because we are automatically inclined to believe the charges brought by his accusers — that verdict of either guilt or innocence must be decided by a thorough and unhindered investigation of the charges — but because by doing so Conyers sends the appropriate message of his willingness to cooperate with the process of that investigation while also promptly removing himself as any sort of distraction that could easily be used by his detractors and enemies to not only tarnish his hard-earned legacy, but quite possibly derail Conyers’ ongoing positive efforts on behalf of his native Detroit as well as the nation.
In short, we certainly hope that Conyers will be proven innocent of any and all charges of sexual harassment that have been leveled against him. This certainly does not in any way sound like the John Conyers that we have all admired and respected for so many years. However, if worse comes to worst and the outcome of the investigation is not the outcome we expect to see, then we are confident that Conyers will once again do the right thing and make the right decision on behalf of the people he has represented so well and for so long. But in the meantime, as that investigation pursues its course, Conyers needs to remove himself from the line of fire, which is what he has done.
For those who may not yet be up to speed on what this is all about, here’s a refresher:
Conyers settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not entertain his sexual advances. From Buzzfeed, which published the story first on Monday, Nov. 20:
“Documents from the complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News include four signed affidavits, three of which are notarized, from former staff members who allege that Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sex acts, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public. Four people involved with the case verified the documents are authentic.”
The woman who ultimately settled with Conyers launched the complaint with the Office of Compliance in 2014, alleging she was fired for refusing his sexual advances. She ended up having to sign a confidentiality agreement to maintain her silence in exchange for that settlement, which came from Conyers’ taxpayer-funded office budget rather than the designated fund for settlements.
Part of that settlement stated that Conyers’ office “would ‘rehire’ the woman as a ‘temporary employee’ despite her being directed not to come into the office or do any actual work. In return for her agreeing to keep silent, the document shows where she would receive a total payment of $27,111.75 over a period of three months, after which point she would be removed from the pay obtained by Buzzfeed roll.”
Conyers does not deny most of the specifics related to the payment made, but he strenuously denies this and all other accusations of sexual misconduct that he allegedly committed against former staffers or anyone else. In fact, since the time that those allegations have been made public, 12 other former staffers from Conyers’ office have come forward in his defense saying that, while they do not judge or dismiss the allegations made against their former boss, none of them ever witnessed or experienced anything similar during their respective times of employment by his office.
Still, despite this encouraging display of loyalty from former female staffers, Conyers must nevertheless take note of the swiftly changing tide of the times in this country. These are no longer the days when a woman’s accusations of sexual harassment can be swept under the rug and dismissed with a shrug and a chuckle simply because a man assures us that all is well and the poor little lady must be suffering from hormonal-induced delusions. When women line up to make accusations of sexual misconduct against a particular man, the question is no longer can they prove it without a shadow of a doubt, but why would all these women lie and sign affidavits?
This is a new day, and the dawn came quick.
In light of all the allegations that have spilled out about Conyers in recent days, the strong temptation among some will be to protect Conyers at all costs because of his legacy and what it means to Detroit. Some may believe that tearing down Conyers is no different than tearing down Detroit in a town that needs more black male heroes.
The truth is that, whatever the outcome, Detroit is certainly strong enough to withstand it. The numerous good works that Conyers has done will remain good works regardless, and we should honor them as such. And we should all acknowledge the fact that all of us have fallen short in our lives, some of us much more so than others. But not many of us have achieved so many accomplishments on behalf of others as John Conyers, who made his career — and established his formidable legacy — by most often doing the right thing. This hardly means that the man is flawless and never made any mistakes or misjudgments. But in so many instances when it mattered, Conyers came through for us, and he did so spectacularly.
Our hope is that, once this is settled, he will be allowed to continue doing so for as long as he is able.