Conyers III denies allegations, unsure on Congress run

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

John Conyers III on Thursday denied accusations of domestic abuse in Los Angeles and confirmed he has not yet decided whether he will run for Congress after his father resigned and endorsed him for the seat.

Former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., 88, on Tuesday became the first lawmaker on Capitol Hill to step down amid allegations of sexual misconduct. He denied claims from former staffers and said he wants his civil rights legacy to live on through his 27-year-old son.

But Conyers III is not sure he wants to run in what experts predict will be a crowded primary in the heavily Democratic district. He told The Detroit News he plans to make a decision by January.

“I want to talk to the community in Detroit and the people of Detroit and go from there,” Conyers said in a brief phone interview.

As NBC News first reported Wednesday, Conyers III faced his own accusations of inappropriate behavior in February when Los Angeles police arrested him on suspicion of domestic violence.

Prosecutors declined to charge Conyers III after the post-Valentine’s Day altercation with a woman he was dating at the time, citing a lack of third-party witnesses to corroborate her claims.

“That situation and the allegations against me are false,” Conyers III told The News. “I will address it in full very soon.”

The woman alleged that Conyers III “body slammed her on the bed and then on the floor where he pinned her down and spit on her” after he looked through her laptop and accused her of cheating on him.

Conyers III called 911 after the altercation and told police the woman had pulled a knife on him, according to a charge evaluation worksheet from the L.A. County District Attorney’s office. He said he had disarmed her and she was injured during the struggle.

The woman suffered a 1.5-centimeter “stab wound” to her inner lower bicep and received three stitches to close the wound.

Conyers III declined to discuss details of the incident, instead referring to a recent interview with the New York Times. He told the newspaper the woman’s claim he stabbed her “makes no sense” but apologized for his role in “escalating the altercation.”

The younger Conyers also told The Times he was “caught off guard” by his dad’s endorsement and had not asked the former congressman to say he’d run for the seat.

In a statement posted to his social media accounts earlier this week, Conyers III said he was honored to be the son of his father and honored by the endorsement.

“It has been an honor to share his generosity and love with the world, the people of Detroit and the cause of civil rights nationwide,” he wrote.

Conyers III has never held elected office and describes himself online as a hedge fund manager and “multi-discipline consultant” who splits his time between Detroit and Los Angeles. He made headlines in 2010, when his father had to reimburse the U.S. Treasury $5,682 for his son’s misuse of his taxpayer-funded Cadillac Escalade.

The former congressman’s seat is already drawing heavy interest from Democrats. State Sen. Ian Conyers, his great-nephew, has said he’s running. Democratic activist Michael Gilmore has also announced.

Potential candidates include state Sens. David Knezek of Dearborn Heights and Coleman Young II of Detroit, who is planning a “major announcement” at a Monday press conference in the city.

Knezek has not announced any plans but said Thursday he looks forward to “continuing the conversation about how I can best serve the community I love.”

Other possible hopefuls include former state Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Shanelle Jackson of Detroit, Westland Mayor Bill Wild, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and Councilwoman Mary Sheffield.

Jackson, who ran for the seat in 2012 but finished third to Rep. Conyers in the Democratic primary, said she’s talking to advisers and family after supporters asked her to consider another run.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is reviewing dates for a special election in the 13th Congressional District, which includes portions of Detroit and Dearborn Heights, along with several surrounding cities including Westland and Redford Township.

Jonathan Kinloch, Democratic Party chairman for the district, is urging Snyder not to schedule a special election early next year. Instead, Kinloch is preparing to send the governor a letter asking him to hold the primary and general election on regularly scheduled election dates in August and November of 2018.

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

Delaying the election would leave the seat vacant for nearly a year, denying Democrats and local residents a voting member in Congress during that span, but Kinloch said the district office remains open to serve constituents.

“You want as many voices as possible in the 13th Congressional District’s 12 communities to be heard” he said. “Also from a political standpoint, (a swift election) creates a disadvantage for individuals who may not be able to raise the necessary resources in a short time frame.”