Even before Gov. Rick Snyder announced the dates for the election to fill the seat vacated by Rep. John Conyers, who retired from service last week on the Mildred Gaddis Show following multiple allegations of sexual impropriety toward staff members (charges which are strenuously denied by Conyers himself as well as a legion of supporters and defenders), the growing consensus already seemed to be that whenever the contest happens it will likely be one of the hottest – and possibly most entertaining – political spectacles that this city has seen in quite some time. And for anyone who has observed politics in Detroit for more than five minutes, you know that’s saying something.
We now know that voters in Michigan’s 13th congressional district won’t be granted a rapidly conducted special election to fill Conyers’ seat. Instead, Snyder has decided to save money by asking that they go an estimated 11 months without representation until the August 7, 2018 primary election, followed by the November 6 general election when they will be allowed to cast their votes for their chosen successor. Some have already voiced their considerable upset with Snyder, claiming he is depriving a largely black district of political representation for nearly a year.
While I understand that position quite clearly, and have never been accused of being a major fan of Snyder’s, I happen to think his decision in this case may not be such a bad thing. Granted, being without a representative for all that time is far from an ideal situation, but considering the importance of this seat, it’s extremely important to give as many candidates as possible time to put their campaigns together and raise funds. Otherwise the edge goes to those already cocked and ready, and that’s not necessarily the best option.
If the 13th District is going to truly move forward, then a truly competitive race needs to be encouraged to (hopefully) allow the strongest and best to rise (or claw their way) to the top.
But whoever the ultimate victor turns out to be, I sincerely hope he/she does not waste time trying to be Conyers 2.0. Because that is not what the residents of the 13th Congressional District, or the rest of Detroit, really needs right now. The sooner we accept the fact that the Conyers era is now over, the better chance we have of moving forward and actually building on his legacy in a more meaningful way. Because although Conyers became recognized over time as a national symbol of civil rights activism and social justice, it’s time we remembered that he was actually elected to be the representative of the people of the 13th District. He was not elected repeatedly by us to represent the rest of the nation – even though we took considerable pride in his high profile and accomplishments. He was elected to represent and fight for the needs of the residents in his turf right here at home, which encompasses some of Detroit, River Rouge, Ecorse, Redford Township, Dearborn Heights, Highland Park, Westland, Garden City, Inkster, Wayne, and Romulus.
And just so we’re clear on this, for those who may still be overly sensitive to anything that even remotely sounds like a possible criticism of Conyers at this very sensitive time, understand that this is not my point. I am hardly saying that Conyers did not look out for his constituents. What I am saying is that his replacement would be making a huge mistake trying to fill Conyers’ dramatically oversized political shoes, somehow feeling a need to expand far beyond capacity and fill a space that simply cannot be filled. Similarly, voters of the 13th District should not be tempted to evaluate the candidates based on who bears the closest resemblance to Conyers. The fact that we are already hearing some measurable resistance to the idea of granting Conyers’ wish to anoint his son, John Conyers III, as his successor, or even his grand nephew, State Sen. Ian Conyers, is a hopeful sign that these voters are respectfully desiring and ready to move on to the next chapter.
Once again, just so we’re clear, I have nothing at all against either of the next generation of Conyers men. Should either/both of them announce then, hey, best of luck. And if either of them should manage to rise to the top and pull it off in November? The voters will have spoken and best of luck.
But while we’re on the subject of possible successors, it’s worth noting that a number of names are already swirling about out there. According to the Detroit Free Press, some of those names include Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield, City Council President Brenda Jones, former State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, State Senators David Knezek of Dearborn Heights and Detroit’s Coleman Young, Westland Mayor William Wild and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. And it’s only been one week. Now that we know there will not be a special election right around the corner, certainly many more names will pop up, and soon.
I confess, I did consider opining about the pros and cons of some of the early names of possible contenders, as well as considering a few others, but I think it’s too early for that. We’re still getting over the loss of Conyers – and how we lost him. At this early date, best to let the race get running for a few strides at least before taking potshots at perceived weak spots.
And whoever thinks their best shot is to run as the Next John Conyers will be the weakest spot of all.