June 27, 2009 at 10:07 am

Conyers' behavior puzzling, her friends say

Councilwoman's personal progress marred by temper, bad choices

Detroit --When U.S. Rep. John Conyers campaigned on behalf of his wife, his appeal was direct: "Join the Conyers family as we fight to take back Detroit from those that put self-interest above your interests."

But four years later, the "interests" of Monica Conyers are the talk of the town now that she pleaded guilty Friday to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery. She admitted taking cash payments in exchange for her support on business before the City Council as well as projects before the city's pension board while she was a trustee.

Those who know the 44-year-old Conyers admit she's a puzzle. The same woman who pulled herself up from poverty and was unremarkable through high school, married well, earned a law degree and dotes on her two children has had trouble because of her quick temper, sharp tongue and what some call a sense of entitlement.

"I try my best to help everyone. I think that's one of my downfalls," she said last week.

Since her election in 2005, Conyers has raised eyebrows for calling fellow council member Kenneth Cockrel Jr. "Shrek" during an outburst; allegedly threatened to shoot a former mayoral appointee; punching a woman at a bar and helping secure a city job for her brother, an ex-convict, after he lied about his prison record.

Since her court appearance, Conyers has not indicated if she would resign. Her name also is still scheduled to appear as a candidate in the Aug. 4 primary.

One of her closest friends of 30 years, Vonda Evans, a Wayne Circuit Court judge, predicts Conyers will find an upside, although the next several years of her life will probably take place inside a federal prison.

"She is a very, very smart person," said Evans, who was in the courtroom Friday and last spent time with Conyers at church two weeks ago. "She will emerge from this a stronger person."

For now, Conyers is "resting" at an undisclosed location, said Evans, who expects the councilwoman "to make a public statement sometime."

Observers said Conyers showed promise during her eight-month tenure as council president , rallying opposition to and killing a Cobo Center deal that many city residents believed was unfair to Detroit. "Monica Conyers is a very intelligent, very savvy person when it comes to politics," said Adolph Mongo, a political consultant. "She just doesn't know how to express her opinions."

To Mongo, Conyers' failings are simple: She has a bad temper and is "spoiled."

As soon as she became council president late last summer, according to city logs, Conyers used Detroit police officers to drive her to dinner and chauffeur her children to private school. . Overtime for police assigned to the City Council jumped 100 percent after Conyers became president.

Her "style can rub people the wrong way," said the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, who backed Conyers in her 2005 run for the council. "I have been with Monica Conyers around the community in certain areas and places other people wouldn't even go," Sheffield said. "We all have our foibles."

Conyers was born Monica Ann Esters in River Rouge on Oct. 31, 1964. She is the second oldest of two girls and four boys born to Robert and Alice Esters.

One brother, Reginald, whom Conyers got a job with the city, had been arrested 14 times and is serving five years in state prison for felony weapon charges.

Another brother, Ervin, served a 7 year stretch in the 1990s after being found guilty by a judge of unarmed robbery, according to the state Department of Correction.Her father, too, had a court record for breaking and entering, according to probate court records, although she grew up with her mother on Crocuslawn on the city's west side.

Her mother and siblings did not return calls.

She graduated from Henry Ford High School, where she now volunteers. According to Galaxy, the yearbook, she participated in no sports or clubs and the former dean of students, James Bannan said he recalled the young Conyers but nothing specific.

Conyers earned a bachelor's degree at Bennett College, an all-women's school in North Carolina. Conyers was a Lyndon B. Johnson Scholar and met her future husband during that time.

When they were married June 4, 1990, she was 25 and John Conyers, until then a lifelong bachelor, was 61. She was seven months pregnant during the ceremony with the couple's first son, John Conyers III, according to Secretary of State records.

"I really do take care of him and make sure he eats right," Conyers said about her husband recently in a TV interview. "Despite personal perceptions, I do love him and take care of him."