Rep. Conyers: ‘Plenty of energy’ for another term

Chad Livengood, Melissa Nann Burke, and Christine Ferretti
U.S, Rep John Conyers announces his decision to seek re-election this morning at the Redford Jaycees Hall.
  • At age 86, U.S. Rep. John Conyers said he has “plenty of energy” to serve a 27th term in Congress
  • The Detroit Democrat has faced questions about whether he is mentally and physically up to the job
  • “I’m as energetic as I was the last few elections,” Rep. John Conyers said
  • Democratic challenger Janice Winfrey said “it’s obvious” to residents why Conyers must go

Redford Township — At age 86, U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. said Monday he has “plenty of energy” and vitality to serve another term in Congress — or maybe two.

“Easily I’ve got the energy. I’ve got a perfect bill of health, except for some high blood pressure I’ve got to watch,” Conyers said Monday in an interview with The Detroit News after kicking off his campaign for a 27th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. “I’m in blessed health.”

The Detroit Democrat, who is also the dean of the U.S. House of Representatives, has faced questions in prior elections about whether he is mentally and physically up to the task of continuing to serve in Congress.

“My energy level is the same as it’s always been,” Conyers said. “That’s why I didn’t have to consider” not running for re-election.

He added: “I’m as energetic as I was the last few elections.”

Conyers is being challenged by Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey in the Democratic primary.

As Conyers launched his re-election campaign Monday morning at an event in Redford Township, he picked up a big endorsement from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

“I’ve endorsed his re-election, and I will be working hard for him,” Duggan told The Detroit News following an unrelated news conference at the Northwest Activities Center. “I think he’s represented this city very well for generations, and I know that he’ll continue to represent it well.”

Conyers said Monday part of his reason for seeking re-election in the 13th Congressional District is his desire to “stimulate” Democratic voter turnout next November for presumed presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Conyers has endorsed Clinton over Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, with whom he is more ideologically aligned.

“I like where (Sanders is) coming from — he’s a progressive — but he can’t win,” Conyers told reporters.

As the longest serving current member of Congress, Conyers became dean of the U.S. House this year following the retirement of former Rep. Jonh Dingell, D-Dearborn. Although in the House’s minority, Conyers remains the ranking Democratic member of the judiciary committee.

“With all of those things, there’s no reason not to run again,” Conyers said. “... I don’t have to check my vitality gauge to see if I’m up to it. I’m up to it.”

Conyers also said giving up the seat to a freshman would deplete the Congress of his institutional knowledge, which stretches back to voting rights battles in the late 1960s.

“We’re in a sensitive period of national and international global issues,” Conyers said. “To me, leaving here saying, ‘Let’s help somebody out,’ I’ll help somebody out the time after this or the time after that.”

“I made it clear that I’m not announcing that this is my last term in Congress.”

Winfrey noted that it’s earlier than Conyers usually starts campaigning for re-election.

“I have to start early. I’m the so-called ‘underdog,’” Winfrey told The Detroit News. “I certainly expected him to run.”

Winfrey said she doesn’t have to make a case about why a change is needed because, for district residents, “it’s obvious.”

“Anyone who knows the 13th Congressional District knows it’s been neglected for quite a while now,” Winfrey said. “I’m committed to the 13th Congressional and to unifying that district and giving it the attention and the help that it sorely needs.”

Winfrey declined to provide examples of how the district has been neglected or how she intends to improve it. She doesn’t plan to discuss her platform in greater depth until after the holidays, she said.

When asked about Winfrey’s candidacy, Duggan said he didn’t have anything bad to say about anybody, but that Conyers’ experience and seniority set him apart from other contenders.

Detroiters Dorothy Burrell and Gloria Mills attended Conyers’ campaign kickoff event Monday morning at the Redford Jaycees Hall on Beech-Daly Road.

“It’s a privilege to have someone like him represent you,” said Mills, 66.

Burrell, 76, said Detroiters need Conyers in Congress fighting for social justice issues and his quest for “full employment.”

“There’s just as much need now as there was when he started 50 years ago,” Burrell said.

Conyers will hold a second campaign event at 2 p.m. Monday at the Julian C. Madison Building in downtown Detroit.

In 2014, Conyers, cruised to a 26th consecutive term in the general election after fending off the Rev. Horace Sheffield in the Democratic primary.

Conyers’ re-election launch nearly nine months before the August primary appears more organized than last year’s campaign, which almost didn’t happen after Conyers failed to gather the required number of voter signatures to get on the ballot.

Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson ruled Conyers fell short of the 1,000 necessary petition signatures because several of his circulators were unregistered voters or had problems with the accuracy of their registration address, as required by law. Hundreds of voter signatures were disqualified.

A Detroit federal judge later ordered Conyers’ name be placed on the August 2014 primary ballot.

Conyers subsequently won 74 percent of the Democratic primary vote against Sheffield, who questioned Conyers’ mental and physical ability to represent the district.

First elected in 1964 and taking office in 1965, Conyers has routinely been returned to Washington in his heavily Democratic district, often with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Conyers is a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and is a founding member and dean of the Congressional Black Caucus.

In September, Conyers and his wife, former Detroit City Council President Monica Conyers, filed for divorce. His attorney has since indicated the couple may reconcile.

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