Foster also told Businessweek that, much like it has lost its standing as the center of the economic influence in the state, Detroit has also begun to lose its place as the state’s center of black influence. Despite the population loss, the city itself is still predominantly black – 83 percent according to census figures, tying it with Milwaukee for the highest percentage in the United States. However, Detroit’s black population has increased in most nearby suburbs such as Southfield, Dearborn, and Warren over the last 15 years.
In terms of demographics, Conyers’ new 13th district is 56 percent black, while the 14th district is 57 percent black. Even with the reworked boundaries, both districts are still heavily Democratic, and winning the Aug. 7 primary essentially assures a general election win in November. Conyers troubles are compounded by not just the change in districts but also by his wife, former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers.
Monica Conyers is currently finishing a three-year prison sentence for accepting bribes in return for her vote for a $1.2 billion sludge-hauling contract. John Conyers as never been implicated in any wrongdoing and refuses to say anything about his wife’s incarceration, but it has become another obstacle in his bid for re-election and he could be seen as guilty by association.
Issues like this are not unprecedented. Clarke defeated Former Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick in 2010 largely due to her being the mother of disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
“I’m not taking any chances, I’m campaigning with the understanding we have a volatile electorate,” Conyers said to Business Week. He added that he must connect with suburban voters that are much more racially integrated than those in Detroit.
Conyers’ other main Democratic challengers are State Sens. Glenn Anderson of Westland and Bert Johnson of Highland Park. On May 30, State Rep. Shanelle Jackson, D-Detroit, was disqualified from the primary ballot for having invalid signatures on her petition to run.
Anderson is a former autoworker who feels that, despite what Conyers has done historically for Detroit, he has become complacent in his position and has done little for Detroit’s economy.
“He deserves credit for what he did for civil rights 30 or 40 years ago,” Anderson told Business Week. “That’s not what we’re talking about now.”
The fear remains for some of Detroit’s residents that the city will lose its voice if a white person is elected and could mark the end of an era for Detroit politically. Irma Clark-Coleman, a member of the Wayne County Commission told Business Week that it would be “devastating.”
“It means we would have no one there in Washington speaking for issues that black people face on health care, voting rights, jobs, the economy,” Clark-Coleman said.
Anderson’s race could be the deciding factor in whether he could unseat Conyers. Anderson has attempted to reach out into Detroit as an attempt to sway voters, but the question is often asked whether a white person could adequately represent a diverse district like the 13th?
“It is possible for a white candidate to represent multiracial districts like Detroit’s,” said Jocelyn Benson, a law professor at Wayne State University who specializes in election law. “But unquestionably, Detroit occupies a unique position in the civil-rights world and the history of our country.”
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith