While Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) announced Tuesday that he is retiring immediately from Congress, he made it clear that he wants to make sure his legacy continues.
From a Detroit hospital, the 88-year-old said he is endorsing his son, John Conyers III, to replace him in Washington.
“My legacy can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we’re going through now. This, too, shall pass. My legacy will continue through my children,” Conyers said in an interview with a local radio station, Praise 102.7.
To some Michigan voters, the Conyers name may be forever sullied by allegations that the dean of the House sexually harassed and mistreated female staffers. But to others in Detroit, it is a name that for more than five decades has represented people from a troubled city that many have forgotten.
Detroit is in the process of massive changes under Mike Duggan, the city's first white mayor in 40 years, after the longtime Democratic stronghold state of Michigan was won by President Trump in the 2016 election. Billionaire investors with Detroit, ties such as Daniel Gilbert, and companies including JPMorgan Chase are investing in Detroit. But some black residents, many of whom were represented by Conyers, have wondered whether the new and improved Detroit will have room for them. Some residents may be looking for a leader — and even a name — they can trust.
John Conyers III is a partner at the Detroit's first minority-run hedge fund, according to his bio on HuffPo, where he recently criticized House Speaker Paul D. Ryan in an op-ed about gun control. After attending New York University and Morehouse College, a historically black college for men in Atlanta, the 27-year-old became a fundraising and social consultant to political consultants.
The younger Conyers told Detroit media that it is wrong for lawmakers to call on his father, the longest-serving member of Congress before his retirement, to step down while not asking the same of others facing allegations of sexual harassment.
“I think that if we're not going to make [Sen.] Al Franken resign when we have evidence of him groping a woman while she was asleep ... it's disconcerting to me to see the way my father is being treated after he's given so much to this country, not just for black people but for people alike,” he said. “He fights for everyone.”
This coded message — that a white lawmaker from Minnesota accused of sexual misconduct is being treated differently than a black lawmaker from Detroit — will probably resonate in these times of tribalism.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have already expressed concern that they may be losing influence and top committee positions with a shake-up of seniority rules. Before Conyers's retirement, he stepped down as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. While younger Democratic lawmakers have increasingly voiced a desire for key leadership positions on committees, some CBC members have expressed concern that the desire for generational diversity could put racial diversity at risk.
“I want to make sure we continue the diversity we have in the Democratic Party,” CBC member Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.) told the New York Times. “A way that African-Americans and Hispanics particularly have able to been make sure that they have been in committee leadership positions is that there has been a seniority system.”
For some voters — especially those who feel like that Conyers's exit from Congress was unjust — backing his son is a completely fathomable way to make sure their voice remains in Congress.
Or even Conyers's nephew. Ian Conyers, the grandson of Conyers’s brother, also plans to run for his great-uncle's seat, setting up an intrafamily contest.
“I’m currently in Israel on a fact finding mission with African American leaders from the Midwest,” he wrote on Twitter. “When I return to #Detroit I look forward to our local and national media taking a thorough look at all candidates to replace my uncle @RepJohnConyers.”
It's not surprising that Conyers is concerned about his legacy. Most politicians are. And Conyers's son's desire to return honor to his father's name is understandable. But the most important question for the family isn't about the congressman's legacy but: What does this mean for the city of Detroit and greater Michigan?