The exit of John Conyers Jr. from politics on Tuesday has already set off a gossip-laden, no-holds-barred sprint for Michigan’s 13th Congressional seat inside his family and district.
Conyers Jr. retired effective immediately in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, including a settlement with a woman who had worked for Conyers Jr. Those allegations were first reported by BuzzFeed News, and Conyers Jr. denied any accusation of sexual harassment.
As pressure built for Conyers Jr. to resign, his grandnephew, 29-year-old Michigan state Sen. Ian Conyers, told BuzzFeed News last week that he would run for his uncle’s seat if he did resign or retire. But on Tuesday, Conyers Jr. said he was endorsing his son, John Conyers III, to serve in his former seat.
For his part, John Conyers III went radio silent Tuesday. In September, he told BuzzFeed News he was interested in politics, “just not as a candidate yet.”
But Tuesday he was was not reachable by phone; a Facebook profile of his was recently taken down; and while it is not clear when a Twitter account belonging to him was deactivated, it’s no longer online. Reached by BuzzFeed News last week for his reaction to the recent developments, he promised only to reach back out “when everything settles.”
Two sources with knowledge of the situation indicated that his personal interest in pursuing his father’s seat intensified in recent days, with the fate of his father’s future still up in the air. He did not return an email seeking comment.
Many inside Democratic politics expressed surprise that Conyers Jr. would endorse his son — a political novice — over his grandnephew, who Joe DiSano, a prominent Michigan Democrat, said was being groomed for state Senate leadership in Lansing.
On Tuesday, Ian Conyers told BuzzFeed News that his uncle's wish to have his son take his seat had no bearing on his decision to proceed. Just a few days ago, Conyers was seen holding forth at a holiday party for the 13th Congressional District Democrats — though he also recently held an event to ring in his Senate reelection bid.
A political insider said one scenario could ease tensions in the Conyers clan: Ian Conyers could run for Congress, and John Conyers III could run for his seat if it’s vacated by the state senator, although Michigan does not have resign-to-run laws on the books. On social media, the young state senator took a direct tack toward Washington, highlighting tweets that framed him as a serious legislator, a doer who represented Michigan’s 4th district admirably.
Jamal Simmons, a Washington-based Democratic political strategist and native Detroiter who expects a crowded contest for the seat, said that one result of a member of Congress occupying a seat for as long as Conyers Jr. had, is that the member leaves a “traffic jam” of political talent, adding that Conyers emerged from the civil rights movement, in which the men were out front and the women stayed behind the scenes, despite doing much of the work. “I think it would be karmic justice to have a woman get to serve in that seat,” he said.
In four separate interviews with people inside Michigan’s Democratic circles, one name kept being repeated: Mary Sheffield, who in 2013 became the youngest person elected to the Detroit City Council.
A person who picked up her office phone said that there was no comment on her interest in the seat at the time.
“But I’m going to have someone get back to you,” the person said.