U.S. Rep. John Conyers’ immediate retirement Tuesday amidst sexual harassment allegations was greeted by Metro Detroit political and community leaders with renewed calls for “due process” and salutes to his legacy as a civil rights trailblazer.
The Rev. Charles Williams II, the pastor of Historic King Solomon Baptist Church and Michigan head of the National Action Network civil rights organization, said Conyers will be known for his record on civil rights and his commitment to the community that elected him to Congress starting in 1964.
“He is the only elected official ever endorsed by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He’s part of a dying breed of black elected officials in representing their communities (who) doesn’t cut deals and (participate) in personal aggrandizement,” Williams said Tuesday. “I have watched Congressman Conyers attend meetings in the district with three people, 30 people and 300 people and he took every single one of those concerns from all of the individuals he met with back to the halls of Congress.”
Williams also urged “full disclosure” Tuesday of information about Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who’s accused of paying $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim, and others. “We are calling on Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan to release the names,” he said.
Michigan state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit, a supporter for whom Conyers was a mentor, said he “ served the people of not only his district extremely well, fighting for voting rights, for democracy, for social justice.”
Gay-Dagnogo said she has “a lot of questions that still need answers because we know a couple of these individuals sought opportunities to be in the presence of the congressman.”
She stopped short of saying she was skeptical of Conyers’ sexual harassment accusers, but expressed doubt about why women who felt unsafe around him would continually vie to be near him.
“I’m just being real honest: I know firsthand of a couple of these claimants wanting to be and being upset about not having an opportunity to attend certain events,” she said. “We have to trust but verify and that’s what I’m having the most trouble with.”
The Office of the Congressional Black Caucus, an organization of which Conyers was a longtime member, declined comment Tuesday.
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, said he was saddened by the resignation of his “friend and mentor” but added: “There can be no tolerance for behavior that subjects women to the kind of conduct that has been alleged.”
The Detroit branch of the NAACP, whose president was among local civic, political and religious leaders demanding “due process” for Conyers, declined comment on his departure. Instead, the civil rights group referred to its Monday statement that called “for the resignation of those who settled for 17 million dollars in tax payer funding to victims of harassment, which includes sexual harassment of those currently in Congress ...”
A former aide for Conyers, who is now employed as a professor in the United Arab Emirates, said Tuesday she was disappointed to hear of his decision to step down from Congress and defended him against claims that he sexually harassed staff members and other women.
“He served the United States and his district for a long time, and has been a historic icon who had the courage to lead on issue of historic proportion, such as the birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and women’s rights,” said Ludmilla Wikkeling Scott. “Since his days marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he has stood with the people of Detroit and the United States in a quest for justice.
“His legacy will continue to live on, and shall not be overshadowed by the false allegations made by a few. It saddens me to see that the rules of the U.S. Congress leadership only apply to some, and only when it serves their own interest, as in the case of those who pressured Congressman Conyers to step down without hearing his side of the story,” she said.
Cheryl Mayor of Detroit, a legacy ambassador for the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, said she expected Conyers to retire after attending a rally Monday in support of him.
“I was sad to hear that he was retiring but if that’s what’s going to help him get better, that’s important. Also it’s important that he gets due process,” she said. “It’s just sad because of how it happened. I thought his retiring would be a celebratory event after all these years.”
“I figured retiring was going to be his only option,” said Mayor.
Democratic Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed said: “As a person of color running for office, there are leaders who paved the way for people like me. John Conyers was undoubtedly one of those people. I hope that his legacy on civil rights will be remembered.”
Associated Press contributed.