Slew of Detroiters file to run for Sen. Smith’s seat

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Nine Detroiters have filed to run in a special Aug. 2 Democratic primary for the state Senate’s 4th District seat that was left vacant last month after former Sen. Virgil Smith was jailed for 10 months for shooting up his ex-wife’s car.

The two most widely known names in the crowded field are former state Rep. Fred Durhal Jr. and Ian Conyers, the great-nephew of longtime U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr.

Three of the candidates ran unsuccessfully for House seats in Detroit in 2014: James Cole Jr., Carron Pinkins and Vanessa Simpson Olive.

Also on the August ballot will be perennial legislative candidate Howard Worthy, who has named his campaign committee, “God Jesus Elect Howard Worthy State Senator.”

Worthy used the same name in 2014 when he lost a three-way primary with Smith and former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who chose not to seek the open seat. Worthy previously ran for the House in 2012 in the 35th District in the Southfield area.

The other three Democratic candidates are Patricia Holmes, Ralph Rayner and Helena Scott, all of Detroit.

The deadline to file for the August primary was 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Snyder scheduled a special election to coincide with the regular Aug. 2 primary and Nov. 8 general election dates after Smith’s resignation from the Senate became official on April 12.

Smith was jailed in March for 10 months after pleading guilty to malicious destruction for shooting at his ex-wife’s Mercedes-Benz during a May 2015 dispute at his home in Detroit.

Democrats are heavily favored to retain the seat in an odd-shaped district that starts in northwest Detroit at Eight Mile and snakes through the city into the Downriver communities of Allen Park, Lincoln Park and Southgate.

Keith Franklin of Detroit was the lone Republican to file for the seat. He ran unsuccessfully against Smith in 2014.

Conyers, a University of Detroit Jesuit High School graduate, is the grandson of John Conyers’ deceased younger brother, William.

A graduate of Georgetown University, Conyers worked in constituents relations for former Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty and was a regional field director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

He returned to Detroit full-time in 2014 to work on his great-uncle’s re-election campaign after John Conyers nearly didn’t make the ballot over an insufficient number of signatures on his nominating petitions.

Conyers, 27, said he’s running for the Legislature because of what he perceives as a “consistent attack on Detroit” by Republicans in the majority.

“It’s just been upsetting and when you know you can do something about it, I feel like you have to step up,” Conyers said Tuesday.

Durhal, 64, left the House in 2014 as the chamber’s dean after three consecutive two-year terms plus serving the final months of a term in 2002 for a House seat that became open when Kwame Kilpatrick was elected mayor of Detroit.

In between his years in the House, Durhal held a series of different positions in the House Democratic and Michigan Legislative Black caucuses, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Michigan Land Bank Authority. His son, Fred Durhal III, won his 5th House District seat in 2014 and is up for re-election this year.

Since being term-limited, the elder Durhal has been working as the government relations director for Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries. Durhal said he resigned that position on Friday to run for the Senate seat, a position he has long desired but decided against seeking in 2014 in deference to the incumbent Smith.

“None of the candidates who have filed have any legislative experience whatsoever. I think that’s where we divide the class,” Durhal said of his eight opponents. None of them could probably hold an intelligent conversation with you about the issues going on in the state because they simply haven’t been there. I believe when it comes to the issues, I’m superior than the other candidates in the race.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood