Conyers is gone but staff continues to work

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. has resigned his seat in Congress, but his staff is still working on and offices still running.

Some changes are noticeable: Conyers’ official website has been deactivated and the nameplate outside his office in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill removed, replaced by a generic plaque reading, “Office of the 13th Congressional District of Michigan.”

The 88-year-old Detroit Democrat was the third-longest serving member of the U.S. House in history. He resigned Dec. 5 amid claims that he sexually harassed several female aides. He denied the allegations.

The clerk of the House of Representatives has taken over management of Conyers’ three offices — in Washington, Detroit and Westland — which will be open on a daily basis.

Vacancies aren’t uncommon in Congress. Conyers’ was the eighth vacancy this year and, under House rules, the clerk oversees the offices of members who resign, die or are expelled.

Oversight by the clerk’s office will continue until voters elect a successor in a special election set by Gov. Rick Snyder for Nov. 6, coinciding with Michigan’s regularly scheduled elections.

In the meantime, staff will continue to help constituents with casework and other general services.

Doug Heye, the former deputy chief of staff to then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said even in the absence of an elected representative, residents who need assistance dealing with a federal agency, want a tour of the U.S. Capitol, or have a question about status of legislation can still get assistance.

“It becomes the office of the 13th Congressional District,” Heye said.

“The staff work on issues facing constituents. That can be questions about legislation, answering the mail, and certainly helping folks with problems that involve the government. Someone who’s got an issue with the VA, or someone who hasn’t gotten their Social Security check. Those kind of services continue.”

Conyers had about 18 people on staff, including employees shared with other offices, as of Sept. 30. They remain on the congressional payroll, according to the clerk’s office.

“The staff will shrink because there’s less of a need for staff. You won’t have anyone coordinating district visits for the congressman and so forth,” said Heye, a political consultant.

“There’s not lot of policy work. You don’t need a big press staff or anything like that or people working with the committee.”

Whoever is elected to succeed Conyers may bring in his or her own staff when he or she takes office in January 2019.

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