U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke target of racist robocalls; pulls out of debates

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DETROIT – Amid an increasingly hostile congressional race, U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, announced on Friday that he will no longer participate in primary debates in the 14th District Congressional. Clarke cites “race-baiting” robocalls and e-mails by an unnamed opponent.

“Due to the use of racist rhetoric and race-baiting by certain candidates in the 14th Congressional District race, Hansen Clarke will not participate in any more debates at this time,” Clarke’s campaign said in a statement. “These political tactics are insulting and offensive to our voters.”

The robocalls question whether Clarke and his late mother, Thelma Hashim, are black. Ron Scott, a media consultant for Clarke, said that the calls were “sickening” and told the Detroit News that Clarke has been made aware of the calls as well as e-mails regarding his race.

Clarke, who goes by his mother’s maiden name, has previously said that his mother was black and his father was born in Bangladesh. The discrepancy stems from Hashim’s 1976 death certificate – obtained by the Detroit Free Press – which listed her as white.

Clarke, the current 13th district representative, is running in the newly formed 14th District – which includes parts of Detroit, the Grosse Pointes, Hamtramck, Oak Park, Southfield, Farmington Hills, West Bloomfield, and Pontiac – in the Aug. 7 primary. He is going up against two-term U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, former state Rep. Mary Waters, and retired Detroit magistrate Bob Costello.

The 14th District is majority black, while two of the candidates (Peters and Costello) are white. None of Clarke’s opponents have claimed responsibility for the calls.

Waters, who was embroiled in a bribery trial and pled guilty to filing a false tax return in 2010, has recently said publicly that she is the “only black Detroiter” running in the district. Lawrence told the Free Press that she has heard rumors about Clarke’s race, but she would not use that type of information in her campaign.

Peters spokesman Jamaine Dickens told the News that he has not heard about any of the robocalls or e-mails and would be surprised if they exist. “I’m unaware of any racial discussion in the context of the campaign for the 14th Congressional District,” Dickens said.

Clarke declining to debate deprives citizens of an opportunity in making their decision on who is best suited for office, he said. Clarke was expected to participate in the next debate on Sunday afternoon in Southfield.

Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter @JayScottSmith