U.S. Rep. John Conyers defeats Detroit clerk Winfrey

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

U.S. Rep. John Conyers fended off Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey Tuesday in a Democratic primary that will likely give the 87-year-old Detroiter a 27th term to remain the longest-serving member of Congress.

Conyers had 60 percent of the vote to Winfrey's 40 percent with 92 percent of precincts reporting. The Detroit clerk is poised to get a higher percentage of the vote than Conyers' 2014 primary opponent, the Rev. Horace Sheffield, did with about 26 percent.

It is shaping up as the closest primary that Conyers has had in many years.

For the second primary in a row, Conyers’ primary foe has tried to make an issue of his age. Winfrey, 58, argued the 13th Congressional District needed better representation to energize and better care for his district, which she claims is neglected and impoverished.

Conyers said he is one of the more active members in Congress in his district and countered that he doesn’t see Winfrey in the community. He dismissed Winfrey’s suggestion that he is diminished and ineffective.

“My mind is sharp,” he told The Detroit News.

Conyers, who has been in the House of Representatives since 1965, is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, where he has served as chairman when his party is in the majority. For the second straight election, President Barack Obama endorsed him.

The predominantly Democratic 13th congressional district includes the western half of Detroit, River Rouge, Ecorse, Redford Township, Highland Park and Romulus.

The name Conyers resonated with Beverly Turner, 60, of the west side of Detroit.

“He’s the only one I know,” Turner said as she went to vote at the Steward Performance Academy, adding that she didn't know Winfrey.

Carole Jones, in her 50s, was more resolute in favor of Conyers.

“I just don’t like her track record,” Jones said of Winfrey as clerk. “I don’t know if she’s corrupt or shady but there were some shady and corrupt things that went on in the city under her tenure. It lends some credence to a lack of leadership.

Jones said age is not a factor for her voting for Conyers: “As long as he’s doing a good job, he’s not feeble and not under the weather, he should do it until he’s ready to give it up."

Marvin Mines, 51, of the west side, also cast his vote for Conyers.

“He’s made a lot of tremendous changes not only for us but for the world,” he said. “They say when you get older, you get seasoned. That means wisdom. So I figure as long as (Conyers) is running, why not give him my vote?”

Conyers argued that Winfrey ran against him to raise her profile to position herself as a possible successor for when he doesn’t run again.

The race has been slowly developing since last fall when the Detroit clerk started contemplating a campaign against Conyers.

Sheffield tried to defeat Conyers two years ago and initially was successful in getting hundreds of petition signatures disqualified and the congressman briefly off of the primary ballot.

Conyers sued in federal court, where a Detroit judge ruled the suit had a “substantial likelihood of success” in showing Michigan’s requirement for circulators to be registered voters is unconstitutional and ordered Conyers on the ballot. The congressman recovered from the embarrassing misstep to win the primary.


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Congressman John Conyers discusses common sense gun safety legislation with community leaders and the public at the Berkley Public Safety Department on Wednesday June 29, 2016. Conyers, along with fellow members of congress and community leaders continue the discuss the issue of gun violence in America following the mass shooting in Orlando. (Max Ortiz/ The Detroit News)2016