U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, talks to the media as the results come in from the polls on Tuesday night at his headquarters. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. handily won the 13th Congressional District’s Democratic primary Tuesday over challenger Horace Sheffield and is a step closer to becoming the first African-American dean of Congress next year.
Conyers campaigned harder than usual in his bid for a 26th term, after a political scare in May almost sidetracked his nearly 50-year congressional career. The higher public profile came after family friend Sheffield, the 59-year-old son of a late well-known Detroit labor and civil rights activist, almost got him booted from the ballot and questioned whether he was mentally and physically up to the job.
A federal judge in May ordered Conyers back on the primary ballot, overriding local and state election officials who had determined the 85-year-old was hundreds of eligible signatures short of qualifying. Judge Matthew Leitman restored his name because of Conyers’ “substantial likelihood of success” in showing Michigan’s voter registration petition requirement is unconstitutional.
Sheffield, the father of first-term Detroit City Council member Mary Sheffield, also has argued the poor and others whom Conyers represents have been left out of Detroit’s nascent revival.
The largely Democratic 13th Congressional District includes portions of Detroit as well as River Rouge, Ecorse, Dearborn Heights, Garden City, Highland Park, Inkster, Melvindale Redford, Romulus, Wayne and Westland.
Conyers raised $228,263 for the first six months of the year through June 30, according to his last fundraising report in mid-July, while Sheffield raised $17,305 and loaned the campaign $20,000. Three-quarters of the contributions to Conyers were from the political action committees of companies including Google Inc., Lockheed Martin, McDonalds and Wal-Mart.
The Democratic primary winner will face Republican Jeff Gorman of Garden City in November.
In February, Sheffield was charged with misdemeanor counts of domestic violence and preventing a crime report stemming from an alleged Jan. 10 incident with his estranged wife at his home in Detroit. Sheffield's attorney, Allison Folmar, has said Sheffield’s ex-wife, DiAnna Lashelle Solomon, is trying to “ruin his reputation.”
Conyers has intensified his campaigning since the petition signature fiasco rocked his campaign in the spring. In turn, heavyweights in the Democratic Party rallied to his re-election effort, including President Barack Obama, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the United Auto Workers union.
In late June, Conyers was vocal in asking Obama and other officials to seek immediate relief regarding water shut-offs in Detroit. He’s also been more visible in the district, including getting support from several city leaders in suburban communities.
Conyers told The News that becoming the dean of Congress — the longest-serving member in either the U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate — is “a very important title that I look forward to and hope to win.” He would assume the title from U.S. Rep. John Dingell, the Dearborn Democrat who is retiring from Congress after 59 years in the House.
The re-election campaign almost didn’t materialize. Conyers needed to mount a legal battle to get back on the ballot after Wayne County and state officials found the congressman fell more than 540 signatures short of the 1,000 signatures from properly registered voters needed to qualify for the ballot.
Once the federal judge ordered Conyers back on the ballot based on based on prior U.S. appeals and Supreme court decisions, state officials declined to appeal the ruling.
■In a contested Democratic primary in the 12th Congressional District, Wayne State University board Chairwoman Debbie Dingell of Dearborn defeated Raymond Mullins of Ypsilanti.
The seat is open because U.S. Rep. John Dingell, the Dearborn Democrat who is the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, decided to retire from the seat he has held for more than 58 years. He is Debbie Dingell’s husband.
The Democratic-leaning district covers parts of Wayne and Washtenaw counties. The winner meets Republican Terry Bowman, a unionized auto worker, in the fall election.
— Jim Lynch