Redistricting may keep blacks from representing Detroit in Congress

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Of the many issues presented by Detroit’s plummeting population is that it has not only altered the cultural makeup of the city and affected the tax base, it has also led to a complete redrawing for electoral maps around the area. Reshaping the face of Michigan’s congressional delegation, it has led to a couple of primary races that no one expected just two years ago.

Detroit’s redistricting has put Conyers, 83, in jeopardy of losing a seat that he has held since 1965. A founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, Conyers has built his legacy in Detroit on his support for civil and voting rights. Conyers was in the streets of Detroit with a bullhorn imploring citizens to end the violence during the riots in 1967.

Bloomberg’s Businessweek reported this week that current congressmen John Conyers, Jr. and Hansen Clarke could be ousted on August 7 during the Democratic Primary after their former district boundaries were redrawn.  The new boundaries pushed Detroit’s two congressional districts, Nos. 13 and 14, into the suburbs and have opened up the possibility that Conyers and Clarke may be ousted by white Democratic challengers in districts where blacks are a smaller majority than before.

The problem is not just limited to Detroit. Michigan was the only state to lose population in the past decade. As a result of Congressional reapportionment, Michigan will lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and, because of their majority in Lansing, Republicans control the redistricting process.

For example, the new 14th District – where two-term congressman Gary Peters and first-term rep Clarke are squaring off — includes parts of Detroit, the Grosse Pointes, Hamtramck, Oak Park, Southfield, Farmington Hills, West Bloomfield, and Pontiac. Roll Call has called the 14th District one of the ugliest examples of gerrymandering in the country, calling the district the “8 Mile Mess.”

“This is going to be the district to watch,” Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, said to MLive.com. “It’s very strange, no doubt about it. It’s clearly a district a Democrat is going to win. The only question is who? And where is that candidate going to come from?”

The state GOP remapped Michigan in a manner that would meld cities such as Detroit with neighboring suburbs in a fashion that would guarantee that at least one Democrat is forced out of office before the general election.

In terms of demographics, Conyers’ new 13th district is 56 percent black, while the 14th district is 57 percent black. Even with the reworked boundaries, both districts are still heavily Democratic, and winning the Aug. 7 primary essentially assures a general election win in November. Conyers troubles are compounded by not just the change in districts but also by his wife, former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers.

“I’m not taking any chances, I’m campaigning with the understanding we have a volatile electorate,” Conyers said to Business Week.

He added that he must connect with suburban voters that are much more racially integrated than those in Detroit.

Conyers’ other main Democratic challengers are State Sens. Glenn Anderson of Westland and Bert Johnson of Highland Park. On May 30, State Rep. Shanelle Jackson, D-Detroit, was disqualified from the primary ballot for having invalid signatures on her petition to run.

Anderson is a former autoworker who feels that, despite what Conyers has done historically for Detroit, he has become complacent in his position and has done little for Detroit’s economy.

Anderson’s race could be the deciding factor in whether he could unseat Conyers. Anderson has attempted to reach out into Detroit as an attempt to sway voters, but the question is often asked whether a white person could adequately represent a diverse district like the 13th?

“It is possible for a white candidate to represent multiracial districts like Detroit’s,” said Jocelyn Benson, a law professor at Wayne State University who specializes in election law. “But unquestionably, Detroit occupies a unique position in the civil-rights world and the history of our country.”

Read the rest of this article by Jay Scott Smith on The Grio

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