In Detroit, Voices of Approval for Decision on John Conyers

In interviews, several Detroit residents say they are pleased that the long-term congressman has been allowed to have a spot on the ballot.

Posted: 05/29/2014 02:30 PM EDT

One of the topics of discussion throughout the city of Detroit in recent days has been the decision by a federal judge to allow Congressman John Conyers to have a spot on the ballot after a challenge to his signatures nearly derailed his prospects for a 25th term.

Interviews with some residents, community activists and others indicated that many Detroit residents applaud the decision to allow the long-term congressman, who was a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, to have a spot on the ballot for the August Democratic primary. Many have characterized the congressman as larger-than-life figure in Michigan politics who has been an impassioned advocate for issues related to African-Americans throughout the country.

“Allowing him to run is a good thing because I think John Conyers is genuinely one who wants to serve his constituents, particularly the African-American residents of his district,” said Kevin Collins, a Detroit resident who works for the federal government, speaking with BET.com.

“I think he has the best interest of the people at heart,” Collins said. “I think that trying to get him off the ballot has a lot to do with his continuous push for issues that are important to African-Americans, like reparations and other issues.”

Nonetheless, while offering high praise to the congressman and his record, some have expressed disappointment that, at age 85, Conyers has done little to groom a successor for the seat to which he was first elected in 1964.

“In general, I think most people are glad he was put back on the ballot,” said the Rev. James Perkins, the pastor of the Greater Christ Baptist Church on Detroit’s East Side and the vice president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, speaking with BET.com.

“We regard Congressman Conyers as an icon, as a pioneer,” Perkins said. “On the other hand, we do recognize that he’s getting up in years. And there is a widespread feeling that he should be grooming someone to succeed him.”

Earlier this month, Michigan’s secretary of state agreed with a ruling by a country clerk, deciding that the congressman could not be placed on the ballot because he failed to produce the 1,000 valid signatures required. Although Conyers’ campaign produced 2,000 signatures, state election law stated that they must be collected by registered voters. Some of those collecting signatures were not registered to vote, leaving the congressmen with fewer than 500 valid signatures, the secretary of state ruled.

However, late last week, a federal judge ruled that that section of state law was unconstitutional and allowed Conyers to have a spot on the ballot.

Perkins said that many people he has spoken with resent the fact that the congressman’s signatures were challenged and that Conyers should be widely supported without challengers looking for methods to remove him from the ballot.

“Anyone can challenge anyone, of course,” Perkins said. “But here in Detroit, our feelings are involved in this, too. There are questions about why this happened. But the bottom line is that the congressman’s staff let him down by not making sure all the details were attended to.”

Not surprisingly, another view was voiced by the Rev. Horace Sheffield, the Detroit minister and candidate who is running for Conyers’ congressional seat in the Democratic primary. Sheffield’s campaign challenged the petitions, asserting that Conyers should have been able to abide by the prevailing signature collection rules.

“The congressman has submitted himself to this process 24 times in the past,” Sheffield said, in an interview with BET.com. “And now, he wants a change in the process.”

He said that the congressman has had a laudable record over the course of his career. However, in the last decade, he has become inattentive to many issues that have affected the district, particularly in the city of Detroit.

Still, he said, “We always felt our opponent would be Congressman Conyers and we’re not changing any of our strategy.”

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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