Rashida Tlaib poised to be first Muslim woman elected to Congress

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Rashida Tlaib is congratulated by a supporter after she was interviewed by local media on Wednesday, August 8, 2018 in Detroit about being the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.

Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib has won a crowded battle to replace former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. in the 13th Congressional District Democratic primary, according to unofficial results.

Tlaib had pulled in 33.2 percent of the vote over Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who has 29.2 percent, with 96 percent of precincts reporting.

The pair was followed by Westland Mayor William Wild, who had 14 percent of the vote. He was followed by state Sen. Coleman A. Young II, the great-nephew of the former congressman Ian Conyers and Shanelle Jackson.

Tlaib has positioned herself to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress. At the moment, she has no Republican opponent in the fall in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.  She has boasted a grassroots campaign and came out on top in fundraising, topping $1 million. 

Rashida Tlaib

The 42-year-old spent the weekend and Tuesday rallying campaign volunteers and pounding the pavement. Tlaib, a daughter of Palestinian immigrants, said Tuesday evening that her day had been filled with emotion and described it as “happy chaos.”

“Especially meeting voters and talking to them, they are inspired,” Tlaib told The Detroit News in a phone interview before the polls closed. 

“One resident said she’s happy for me and it’s already written. It’s been amazing to interact with families at polling locations. I feel very much supported."

Brenda Jones won a separate, special primary election to finish out the last couple months of the remaining term of U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., who resigned in December. 

Jones collected 37.5 percent of the votes followed by Tlaib at 35.6 percent. 

West side resident the Rev. Roslyn Bouier said Tlaib earned her vote because she's has always stayed true to her roots.

"Rashida's a fighter. Her being a woman and a Muslim woman, she understands discrimination," said Rev. Roslyn Bouier, a 58-year-old west side resident who voted for Tlaib. "It's not just about whether or not I know your name. I've seen Rashida fight. She's not going to just go along to get along."

Jones entered the race with broad name recognition and dozens of prominent endorsements from union groups, clergy and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. 

Detroit Council President Brenda Jones.

Jones' campaign played it low-key leading up to Tuesday's primary with no scheduled events for the weekend, only plans to "play it by ear," she said. She was not immediately available Tuesday evening for comment. 

On Monday, Jones told The Detroit News that she’s received “great support” from many in Congress and was “doing everything” to encourage voters to turn out for the election.

“People need to be reminded of how important it is to get out for the primary,” she said. 

The two-term council president has said she's known as "a voice for the people" and touts roles serving on the city's pension board and state-mandated financial review commission as well as the regional Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. 

Janeva Smith turned up to vote Tuesday at the Detroit Service Learning Academy on the city's west side and she went with the familiar.

"I picked Brenda Jones," said Smith, a 26-year-old security guard. "I know over the years she's done a lot for us and I would like to keep her in the office to do more progress for Detroiters."

In Westland, some voters hit the polls Tuesday to support Wild, who spent his weekend visiting Detroit churches and canvassing other district neighborhoods, trying to gain favor with the district's undecided voters. 

Wild is serving his third term as Westland mayor after prevailing in November to retain his position. Wild, who formerly made an unsuccessful 2014 bid for Wayne County Executive, hoped to win over the district's suburban voters.

Westland resident Alicia White cast her ballot for Wild at Cooper Upper Elementary School on Ann Arbor Trail. In her opinion, he'll represent the citizens best, she said. 

"I think that Bill cares about the people," said White, a 10-year resident of the city and a school teacher.

Candidates in the 13th District together raised over $2 million, though Tlaib alone raised over half of that amount. Second-place fundraiser Wild has received roughly $536,300 as of July 18.

Ian Conyers and Jones raised $189,400 and $182,700 for the cycle, respectively.

John Conyers Jr. resigned last winter amid allegations of sexual harassment from female staff. The 13th Congressional District covers parts of Detroit, Dearborn Heights, Westland and Redford Township.

Ian Conyers, 29, is a first-term senator who won a 2016 special election to replace Virgil Smith Jr., who resigned amid a domestic violence scandal. He became the youngest state senator in Michigan history when he was elected at age 28. 

Conyers Jr. had endorsed his son, John Conyers III, who was disqualified from the ballot for an insufficient number of signatures.

Jackson, an ex-Rep. of Detroit, is director of government relations for the Moroun-owned Detroit International Bridge Co., which operates the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Young was making a bid for the seat after an overwhelming election loss to Duggan in last November's race for Detroit mayor. The 35-year-old said he's focused on promoting his 12-year "record of getting things done" in the state Legislature.



Jonathan Oosting contributed