The 5-week congresswoman: Brenda Jones exiting House

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
The official congressional photograph of U.S. Rep. Brenda Jones, D-Detroit, who was sworn into office Nov. 29, 2018.

Washington — U.S. Rep. Brenda Jones' short-lived career in Congress is coming to a close after she served the final weeks of former Rep. John Conyers' term in the U.S. House. 

Jones, a Detroit Democrat, took the oath of office Nov. 29 and moved into Conyers' old office in the spacious Rayburn building on Capitol Hill. 

She served three unremarkable weeks in the lame-duck session before the federal government partially shut down and lawmakers recessed for the holidays.

Jones appears to have taken the job seriously, casting about 77 votes in the U.S. House and introducing two bills — one about affordable housing and the other targeting states that reduce the minimum wage

Each bill had a single co-sponsor — Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield — and was assigned to committee, though neither will come up for consideration before the 115th Congress adjourns this week. 

Jones, 59, did not return calls for comment and, through press secretary Acquanetta Pierce-Glass, has declined interview requests during her tenure. 

Jones lost her bid to replace Conyers for the next two years to former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, who is set to take over the seat Jan. 3.  

Her brief term in office did make history in breaking with more than 100 years of U.S. House precedent when Jones served simultaneously as a member of Congress and a local elected official. 

Her refusal to resign as president of Detroit City Council delayed her swearing in for more than three weeks until House leaders came to an agreement to seat her in late November.

Under the conditions of the deal, Jones was to accept no pay from Detroit's council and participate in no council votes while serving in Congress.

City Council returns from its holiday recess this month, and Jones' city office last month released a list of her accomplishments on behalf of the city in 2018.

They included providing 500 Thanksgiving dinners to Detroit families and a resolution supporting the police department's efforts to recoup the cost of training officers who take jobs outside the city.

Jones did speak on the House floor a few times: She wished a happy 80th birthday to a retired teacher in the 13th District named Gladys Cooke, and recognized the 100th birthday of Fletcher Williams of Detroit, who served as an air mechanic with the Tuskegee Airmen.

She honored the Rev. Dallas A. Walker Jr. for 45 years of ministry at the Wyoming Avenue Church of Christ and congratulated William "Bill" Ratliff on being named assistant chief of police at the Inkster Police Department.

In recent weeks, she had to move out of the Rayburn office to make way for its new occupant, who will be sworn in Thursday. 

Some Detroit political observers are wondering if Jones will challenge Tlaib in 2020, considering she came within a percentage point of winning the seat in the Democratic primary and launched an unsuccessful write-in campaign for the general election. 

Jonathan Kinloch, chair of the 13th District Democratic Party, said last week he hasn't discussed that matter with Jones.  

"That one I can’t answer," Kinloch said. "I can’t imagine her beginning to think about 2020 when she has the business of the city awaiting her on Jan. 3."

Jones hired at least five staffers during her brief tenure in the House, according to staffing records on the website Legistorm.

Four had previously worked for Conyers and then the 13th Congressional District after his resignation in December 2017 amid sexual misconduct allegations by former aides.

They include two staffers who made more than $156,000 in salary from the House of Representatives last year: Chief of Staff Ray Plowden and District Director Yolanda L. Lipsey, according to Legistorm.

The 13th District includes parts of Detroit and other communities in Wayne County, including Romulus, Inkster, Highland Park, River Rouge, Westland, Garden City and Wayne. 

Jones is not the only modern member of Congress from Michigan to serve for a matter of weeks.

In 2012, Democrat Dave Curson of Belleville served less than two months in the House after GOP Rep. Thad McCotter resigned from Congress.

Curson won the special election to complete the final weeks of McCotter's term from Nov. 6, 2012, through Jan. 3, 2013.

Curson did not run in the general election to represent the 11th District — a seat that went to Republican Kerry Bentivolio, who served a single two-year term.