Dem would be first Muslim woman in Congress, if elected

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a community organizer and the first Muslim woman elected to the Michigan Legislature, said Tuesday she is running for U.S. House, aiming to win the seat of former Rep. John Conyers Jr., who resigned in December.

If successful, Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat, would be the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a Detroit native, became the first Muslim elected to the chamber in 2007 and, along with Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, is one of two Muslims currently serving in the U.S. House.

Tlaib says her voice as a “mother working for justice for all” is needed in Washington.

“It is something that is inspiring to many people – even if you’re not Muslim – to know that a girl like me who grew up poor in south Detroit, who didn’t speak English when I started school, with a faith that is literally being targeted every single day by not only this administration but the media, could run and win and make history,” Tlaib said in an interview.

“Even though people still may not understand my faith, I expose it in such an impactful way through public service. … People still can’t pronounce my name, but they remember the things that I do for them.”

Fayrouz Saad, a Democratic candidate for Congress in the 11th District, could also be the first Muslim congresswoman if elected to succeed retiring Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham. Saad previously worked for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office as director of immigration affairs.

Tlaib, whose House district included southwest Detroit and Dearborn, narrowly lost a 2014 primary race challenging state Sen. Virgil Smith, who has since resigned.

She now works as a public interest lawyer at the nonprofit Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice.

The primary field in the 13th District continues to grow, including Conyers’ 27-year-old son, John Conyers III, and his great-nephew state Sen. Ian Conyers.

Others include state Sen. Coleman Young III, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, former state Rep. Shanelle Jackson and Democratic activist Michael Gilmore. Detroit NAACP executive director Donnell White is also reportedly considering a run.

Tlaib, 41, grew up in Detroit, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and the eldest of 14 children. She graduated from Southwestern High School, Wayne State University and Thomas Cooley Law School. She has two sons, ages 6 and 12, and lives in Detroit.

She worked for former Democratic state Rep. Steve Tobocman before her election to the state House in 2008, serving through 2014.

Tlaib said her greatest legacy in the Legislature was creating a neighborhood service center, the Mary Turner Center for Advocacy, which offers free tax representation and help for residents facing mortgage foreclosure and for high-school students filling out forms for college aid.

Tlaib also says she led efforts to require community benefits in taxpayer-subsidized development deals and to mandate a Cancer Cluster Study requirement for an area of southwest Detroit affected by industrial pollution. She also pushed to pass legislation cracking down on scrap metal theft and mortgage fraud.

“I really dislike bullies that take advantage of our families and homeowners, and who corrupt our democratic process,” Tlaib said in a statement.

“And yes, sometimes that means I will block their trucks or organize campaigns against them and shame the elected officials who support their lies.”

Tlaib made news in 2016 when she stood during a speech by then-candidate Donald Trump at the Detroit Economic Club, asking him to “read the U.S. Constitution,” and was escorted out by security, along with other protesters.

Last year, she joined a federal lawsuit alleging that political district maps drawn by Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature discriminate against Democratic voters to protect GOP majorities at the state Capitol and in Congress.

Conyers, 88, resigned after nearly 53 years in Congress in early December amid allegations of sexual misconduct involving former female aides.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has set the special election to fill Conyers’ seat to coincide with the regularly scheduled 2018 primary and general elections on Aug. 7 and Nov. 6, respectively.

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