Most of Detroit to go 11 months without rep in Congress

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Gov. Rick Snyder

Washington — Gov. Rick Snyder has set the special election to fill the seat of departed U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. to coincide with the regularly scheduled 2018 primary and general elections, in part to keep costs down. 

Conyers, a Detroit Democrat who served for nearly 53 years, on Tuesday became the first lawmaker on Capitol Hill to resign amid allegations of sexually harassing several female aides. 

The special primary election will be Aug. 7 and the special general election Nov. 6. 

That means residents of the 13th District, which covers much of Detroit and parts of Wayne County, will go without a representative in Congress for roughly 11 months. 

“Having ample time for candidates to make a decision about running for office and file their paperwork gives people more options as to who will next represent them in Congress,” Snyder said in a statement. 

“In order to allow several months for that to take place and to reduce the financial burden on local taxpayers, the primary and general elections will be held when regularly scheduled elections are already occurring.”

The winner of the special election will complete the last two months of Conyers’ two-year term, which runs through Jan. 3, 2019. 

The winner of the general election would take office on Jan. 3, 2019, for the start of the 116th Congress.

The same candidates may run for both the special and general elections, but the winners could be two different people — which is what happened after Republican Rep. Thad McCotter resigned in July 2012. 

David Curson, a Democrat, won the special election in November 2012 to finish the last two months of McCotter’s term. 

But Curson was not a candidate in the general election. Kerry Bentivolio, a Republican, won that race and took office in January 2013 at the start of the new session of Congress. 

Jonathan Kinloch, who chairs the Democratic Party in the 13th District, wanted Snyder to set the special election to coincide with the regularly scheduled election dates in August and November, even though it leaves the seat vacant for months. 

He said the district offices remain open to serve constituents in the meantime.

“This seat only becomes available once every 50 years,” Kinloch said this week. “We all know that in those special elections that are called outside the normal election cycle that voter turnout is less.”

But some Democrats weren’t happy Friday, including former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer, who lashed out at Snyder.

“And @onetoughnerd continues to give the back of his hand to urban areas whether it’s emergency managers, poisoned water, and now being denied representation in Congress for nearly a year,” Brewer tweeted.

Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton noted that Kinloch had recommended the dates, and that the governor’s office also consulted with Wayne County officials and the City of Detroit before making a decision.

Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the state Elections Bureau, said Snyder’s use of the regularly scheduled 2018 election dates will save local communities an estimated $2 million. 

Political analysts predict the primary will be crowded in the heavily Democratic district since Conyers’ seat hasn’t been open for decades. 

Conyers has endorsed his eldest son, John Conyers III, to succeed him, though the 27-year-old hasn’t decided whether to run.

The former congressman’s great-nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers of Detroit, also plans to run, as well as Democratic activist Michael Gilmore. State Sen. Coleman Young II said Friday he will also be a candidate. 

State Sen. David Knezek of Dearborn Heights is considering a campaign, as well as former state Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Shanelle Jackson of Detroit, Westland Mayor Bill Wild, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and Councilwoman Mary Sheffield.

The deadline for primary candidates to file for the Aug. 7 ballot will be 4 p.m. April 24.

Staff writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.