Cony­ers’ exit opens elec­tion flood­gates

Windsor Star - - CITY+REGION - The As­so­ci­ated Press

DETROIT John Cony­ers' res­ig­na­tion from the U.S. House amid sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions un­locks the seat he has held for more than a half-cen­tury — and sets off a free-for-all race to re­place him with at least three po­ten­tial legacy can­di­dates, in­clud­ing two rel­a­tives of Cony­ers and a son of a prom­i­nent for­mer mayor.

Cony­ers, who had faced grow­ing calls to re­sign from Demo­cratic lead­ers and col­leagues as he's been ac­cused by one woman af­ter an­other, ve­he­mently de­nies he groped or ha­rassed women who worked for him. As the 88-year-old civil rights leader walks away, he's also seek­ing to pre­serve his legacy, hav­ing en­dorsed his son, po­lit­i­cal neo­phyte John Cony­ers III, to suc­ceed him.

A grand-nephew of Cony­ers, Michi­gan state Sen. Ian Cony­ers, also plans to run. Other names in the mix of pos­si­ble can­di­dates in­clude Cole­man Young II, son of Detroit's first black mayor, Cole­man Young; Wayne County Sher­iff Benny Napoleon; and for­mer state Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Shanelle Jack­son. Given that Cony­ers' heav­ily Demo­cratic district has changed over the years to in­cor­po­rate sub­urbs, the race also could draw Westland Mayor Wil­liam Wild or state Sen. David Knezek, who rep­re­sents Dear­born Heights, part of Detroit, and sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

Lans­ing-area Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Joe DiSano said Cony­ers' “re­tire­ment” — as the long­time law­maker termed it — hap­pened so abruptly, it's freed up “20-30 years of pent-up am­bi­tion.” It also could bring an end to the po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in the district that came with Cony­ers' long years of ser­vice and in­flu­ence as the rank­ing mem­ber of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. “The bar is set high,” DiSano said. “Who­ever wins is go­ing to have to deal with that.”

The seat will sit un­filled un­til spe­cial pri­mary and general elec­tions are held. Repub­li­can Gov. Rick Snyder has yet to sched­ule them. The spe­cial elec­tions are likely to be held in con­junc­tion with reg­u­lar elec­tion dates in May and Au­gust, or Au­gust and Novem­ber. One fac­tor is the po­ten­tial US$1-mil­lion ex­tra cost for a spe­cial elec­tion in May in­stead of Au­gust, when can­di­dates al­ready will be run­ning in pri­mary races.

Cony­ers was first elected to the House in 1964. His res­ig­na­tion left Repub­li­can Rep. Don Young of Alaska as the long­est-serv­ing cur­rent House mem­ber.

Around a half dozen women have ac­cused Cony­ers of sex­ual ha­rass­ment. The lat­est came for­ward Tues­day — the day Cony­ers re­signed. Lisa Bloom, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing sev­eral women who have ac­cused Cony­ers of sex­ual mis­con­duct, posted an af­fi­davit from Delores Lyons on Twit­ter. Lyons told WXYZ-TV that on one oc­ca­sion Cony­ers put her hand in his lap while she was driv­ing. She says he touched her in­ap­pro­pri­ately two other times while she was a Cony­ers vol­un­teer be­tween 2010 and 2014.

Young said it's tough for him to square the ac­cu­sa­tions with Cony­ers' legacy. Cony­ers es­tab­lished the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth­day as a fed­eral hol­i­day in 1986 af­ter a 15-year strug­gle and em­ployed civil rights le­gend Rosa Parks at his Detroit district of­fice for more than two decades. Still, the state leg­is­la­tor said his “heart breaks” for the women and won't ex­cuse sex­ual mis­con­duct."

RI­CARDO THOMAS /DETROIT NEWS/FILES

John Cony­ers, right, is seek­ing to pre­serve his legacy by en­dors­ing his son, po­lit­i­cal neo­phyte John Cony­ers III, left, to suc­ceed him in the U.S. House.

Rashida Tlaib

Cole­man Young II

Benny Napoleon

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