Detroit goes to the polls on Tuesday (August 7) to elect a candidate to replace their longtime Democratic Congressman John Conyers Jr., who resigned in December amid accusations of sexual misconduct. Conyers had represented Detroit since 1964. His district is one of the poorest in the nation, with more than 16 percent of residents living below the federal poverty line.
Conyers’ great-nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers, is among the six Democrats competing for the vacant seat. However, the former lawmaker, who is 89, endorsed his son John Conyers III to replace him. But the younger John Conyers is not on the Democratic ballot because he failed to collect enough valid signatures.
Why did you decide to enter the congressional race?
There’s no doubt we’re in a civil rights moment in our country. That requires people to give of their skills and really step up. I’ve been in the state senate since 2016. I found myself in a position where I could seek comfort and convenience. But the national narrative is demanding new leadership of people with skills. So, looking at my own experience with people I’ve worked with and people I’ve worked for, I knew I’d be the best advocate for what’s been going on in our district. I say advocate as someone who could bring back the resources. That’s what this is really about.
What abilities do you bring?
What’s going to matter on day-one in D.C. is the ability to leverage relationships and experiences. I’ve been in and out of Washington, D.C. for the past 12 years. After finishing my masters at Georgetown University in urban and regional planning, I earned a job as Constituent Services Deputy Director for the District of Columbia and worked on one of the largest transportation redevelopments in the country.
Knowing that in the Department of Justice, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services there are dollars that we could bring back for technology [to reduce gun violence], it’s what keeps me up at night. When I first got back here to Detroit, it seemed on a basic level we were not doing the things other cities were doing to treat gun violence like a disease.
In 2004, when I was in high school, we had over 400 murders in this city. One of my best friends growing up got gunned down in his own home while holding his daughter. He threw the guy out of his house after taking six shots and collapsed in the front yard.
Your main rivals have raised far more money than you have. What does that tell you?
I’m very proud of our fundraising, to be the youngest candidate in the race and to have raised nearly, if not over, $200,000 from grassroots donors, averaging about $200 bucks apiece from people who I know personally. I think anytime you could do that, especially having only been in office myself since 2016, that shows that we’ve got belief from multiple generations.
Has the congressman offered any support for your candidacy?
I’ve always enjoyed a great relationship with my uncle, and as I’ve said from day one, folks have a right to support whomever they choose, and I don’t think that changes the relationship at all.
You were reportedly one of the loudest voices calling for John Conyers III to be taken off the ballot. How’s your relationship with your cousin?
We just saw each other at a candidate forum on July 30th, and it’s the same relationship you’d have toward any [rival] for office. It wasn’t an easy winter in Detroit, and many candidates did not collect the signatures from down here in Detroit to the upper peninsula. It’s the same as anyone else seeking to run for the same seat. That’s how we’ve been.
What have you done for Detroit as a state senator?
Writing a lot of legislation has been important to me. For too long it seems like politicians who have been around for a long time are not producing legislation, so we’ve written a number of bills—two of which have been passed.
What would you like voters to know about you?
It’s important to know that I’m one of eight brothers and sisters. I’m not the oldest but the first to finish high school, first to go to college to get a master’s and come home. That’s important because I get it, I get what our district and Detroiters are going through; I experienced it first-hand.