Democratic Detroit lawmaker Isaac Robinson dead at 44; COVID-19 suspected

Beth LeBlanc Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Democratic Rep. Isaac Robinson has died from an illness his family believes was linked to the coronavirus. 

His mother, former state Rep. Rose Mary Robinson, said she suspects COVID-19 was the cause of her son's death. She said her son had been experiencing "stressful breathing" for a few days.  

His condition deteriorated on Sunday. At about 6 a.m., she called 911 and an ambulance took Isaac to Detroit Receiving Hospital. Isaac died at about 11 a.m., his mother said. 

The first term, 44-year-old Detroit lawmaker was elected to the Michigan House in 2018. He won a seat that had been held by his mother for six years. 

Robinson said someone at the hospital also told her daughter that they suspected it was COVID-19. 

“He refused to accept he was sick," she said. 

State Rep. Isaac Robinson D-Detroit, center, speaks with Cynthia A. Johnson D-Detroit, right, and Imad Hamad of AHRC, left, in front of the Masjid Mu’ath Bin Jabil to protest the expansion of a U.S. Ecology waste site in Hamtramck in 2019.

An attorney, Isaac Robinson represented the 4th state House District, which featured Hamtramck and a central portion of Detroit.

Asked what she would tell people in Detroit of her son, she responded, "I wish I could convey how much he loved them.

“He lived the life he wanted to live. He did what he loved. He loved being in the community. He loved advocating.”

Robinson was someone who had Detroit and public service "running through his veins," said Jonathan Kinloch, a friend of Robinson's and chairman of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party. He was someone, he said, who "stood firm on the issues he believed in."

"He was a strong, strong voice that carried a long way in the city of Detroit when it came to galvanizing people," Kinloch said. 

"A lot of his inspiration came from the strength and civil-rights influence of his mother. He absolutely carried on the work of his mother. My heart really goes out to her, his siblings, his father.”

Robinson was "a passionate advocate for his community and constituents," said House Democratic Leader Christine Greig. The caucus is "devastated" by the loss, she said. 

"Everyone knew Isaac," she said. "Because every time he spoke, he spoke with passion. He spoke with conviction and he was there everyday to fight for the people and, in particular, the people of Detroit and people who struggled.”

The governor recalled Robinson's passion. 

“Rep. Isaac Robinson had a huge heart, a quick wit, and a genuine passion for the people. I am very sad to hear of his passing," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Sunday.

"He was a fierce advocate for Detroiters and people across southeast Michigan. He dedicated his career to ensuring justice and security for those he served, and the impact he had on his community will continue to be felt for years to come."

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he was "deeply saddened" to hear of Robinson's death. Robinson served as vice chair for the Vermont senator's campaign in Michigan. 

He "believed strongly in a fairer future for all," Sanders said on Twitter on Sunday night. "Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones."

House Speaker Lee Chatfield said the House "feels the sting of his passing."

“I will remember Isaac as a proud son of Rose Mary, an accomplished attorney, and a talented and effective representative of the people," Chatfield said. "But most of all, I will remember him as a passionate defender of the city of Detroit and the people who lived there. He cared deeply for that city, and his genuine love for its residents shined through in everything he did and in every decision he made."

Robinson was a "strong advocate" for those in the Detroit community who needed him, Mayor Mike Duggan said Sunday. 

"His passing is a devastating loss to our community and another reminder of how we all need to do our part to protect ourselves and each other in these difficult times," Duggan said.

Robinson was champion of the city and a "fighter for working people, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said Sunday. 

"He was also a good friend with a big heart," Bieber said. "I am shocked and saddened to hear that he's passed. Last time we talked, he was working to make sure we took care of workers who were affected by this awful coronavirus pandemic. His impact will resonate in his community and around our state years from now." 

Robinson's suspected COVID-19 illness is the second case to strike a lawmaker in the state House. 

Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit, tested positive for the virus last week but said he was feeling better by the end of the week. 

Unlike Carter, Robinson was not at the House's last full session on March 17, when lawmakers passed a $125 million supplemental for coronavirus response.