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Conyers Resignation: What the Race to Replace Him Could Look Like

Longest-serving member’s exit set to spark crowded Democratic primary

The departure of Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr., who was first elected in 1964, will invite lots of interest from Democrats looking to run for office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The departure of Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr., who was first elected in 1964, will invite lots of interest from Democrats looking to run for office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:39 p.m. | Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr. endorsed his son, John Conyers III, to replace him Tuesday after announcing he’s leaving Congress.

The longest-serving current member on Capitol Hill faced allegations of sexual harassment from several women. He’d admitted to reaching a monetary settlement with a former staffer who accused him of unwanted sexual advances.

The congressman’s Tuesday statement to a Detroit radio host that he was “retiring today” led to questions about the exact timing of his exit from the House. It was initially unclear whether he would end his service Tuesday, at the end of his term or at some point in between.

But his lawyer later clarified with a tweet: “The congressman’s retirement is effective #Today.”

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee read a letter from Conyers on the House floor Tuesday morning, in which he said he had informed Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder of his retirement. 

Watch: Jackson Lee Reads Conyers’ Resignation Statement

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“I recognize that in this present environment, due process will not be afforded to me,” Conyers said in the letter. “Given the totality of the circumstance of not being afforded the right of due process, in conjunction with current health conditions and to preserve my legacy and good name, I am retiring.”

Conyers was hospitalized for stress last week as reports swirled of the allegations against him. He had already stepped down as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and the House Ethics panel had opened an investigation in to the allegations. That inquiry is set to end with the congressman’s retirement.

Watch: The Language of Congress: What’s the Difference Between Resigning and Retiring?

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“I cannot allow the great work of this body to be distracted from their important work or the goals of the Democratic Party to be distracted,” Conyers said in the letter. 

Pelosi said in a statement later Tuesday that the 88-year-old lawmaker helped shape “some of the most consequential legislation of the last half century.”

“But no matter how great the legacy, it is no license to harass or discriminate,” the California Democrat said. “I pray for Congressman Conyers and his family and wish them well.”

Family feud?

In the 13th District race to succeed the congressman, the younger Conyers likely won’t have the field to himself. He probably won’t even be the only Conyers running. A crowded primary is expected for the safe Democratic seat, which hasn’t been open in decades. 

State Sen. Ian Conyers, the congressman’s great-nephew, had told The New York Times early Tuesday morning that his great-uncle would retire and that he would run to replace him. 

Ian Conyers was just elected to the state Senate last fall. He was a regional field director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in Michigan and later served as treasurer of the 13th District’s Democratic Party committee.

While top House Democratic leaders had called on the congressman to resign, Ian Conyers maintained his family still has support in the district.

“People are ready to support our dean and to support our family as we continue to fight, as we have for leading up to a century, for people from Southeast Michigan,” Ian Conyers told the Times.

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon is also likely to run to replace Conyers, according to a Democratic operative in the state. He served 26 years in the Detroit Police Department, retiring as the chief of police. He lost a 2013 bid for Detroit mayor. 

Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim woman elected to the Michigan Legislature, could run, too. When she was elected in 2008, she was only the second Muslim woman elected to any state legislature in the country. 

Another contender could be state Sen. David Knezek, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. The youngest state senator in the state, he was previously a member of the state House and served two tours in Iraq with the Marines.  

First elected in 1964, Conyers won a 27th term last year with 77 percent of the vote. The race for his Detroit-based seat is rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

Eric Garcia contributed to this report.

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