With Lawrence’s retirement, will Michigan have a Black member of Congress in 2023? 

A scramble for Southeast Michigan U.S. House seats is underway

By: - January 5, 2022 11:36 am

Rep. Brenda Lawrence at a rally for former Vice President Joe Biden in Detroit, March 9, 2020 | Andrew Roth

After U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), Michigan’s only Black congressional member, sent political shockwaves throughout the state Tuesday night by announcing she would not seek a fifth term on Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), a native Detroiter and daughter of Palestinan immigrants, announced Wednesday she’s running in the new 12th District. 

Final U.S. House map approved by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission on Dec. 28, 2021

“This year marks my 30th year in elected public service, and I’ve had the good fortune of serving Michiganders on the local and national level,” Lawrence tweeted on Tuesday evening. “After reflecting on my journey & having conversations with my family, I’m announcing that I will not be seeking re-election to Congress.”

Lawrence currently represents the 14th District, but Michigan will only have 13 seats going into the 2022 redistricting after stagnant population growth during the last decade.

Lawrence, 67, was first elected in 2014. The Detroit native is a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and a member of the Oversight and Reform Committee. Lawrence made history in 2001 when she became the first African American elected mayor of Southfield, a Detroit suburb. In 2010, she was Democratic gubernatorial nominee Virg Bernero’s running mate.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) said that “Congress is losing an incredible public servant, trailblazer and leader. Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence arrived in Congress with an impressive record of public service — her career at the U.S. Postal Service, the Southfield Public Schools Board of Education, the Southfield City Council and as the first African American and first woman Mayor of Southfield. In Congress, this commitment to the people of Michigan shows in her work every day.”

Rashida Tlaib | Andrew Roth

Tlaib had been expected to run in the new 13th District, a Democratic-favored seat that includes a portion of Detroit, as well as Highland Park, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, the Grosse Pointes, Allen Park, River Rouge, Melvindale and Taylor, but she has changed course.

“As expected, communities in the current 13th Congressional District were unfortunately split up between the new 12th and 13th Congressional Districts,” Tlaib said in a statement Wednesday morning. “After much deliberation with my family, residents, and my team, I am excited to announce that I will be running for re-election in what will now be Michigan’s 12th Congressional District.”

Tlaib noted the new 12th District contains nearly two-thirds of the residents she served in the current 13th. The overwhelmingly Democratic district is composed of Detroit, a portion of Oakland County as well as Western Wayne County communities such as Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Livonia, Westland, Garden City and Redford Township.  

She does not currently live in the new 12th District but intends to move there. U.S. House members are not required to live in the district that they represent. 

Meanwhile, state Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit), who was born in India and moved to the U.S. in 1979, had already announced that he is running for the new 13th District. He told the Advance on Wednesday that he thanks Lawrence for her “tireless work for children and working families” and intends to continue his course. He also applauded Tlaib’s decision to run in the neighboring 12th. 

The announcements have some African Americans wondering whether the Michigan delegation will have a Black member representing a portion of Detroit. 

Shri Thanedar | Andrew Roth

State Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit), who is African American, pointed out in a Tuesday evening tweet that Michigan has had a Black member of Congress since the 1950s when Dwight Eisenhower was president, G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams was governor, and the city of Detroit Housing Commission was overhauling its policies after a federal court judge ruled in 1954 that it had been practicing race discrimination.  

“Last time there was no black member of congress running for re-election was 1955 when Charles Diggs was first elected. Grateful for @RepLawrence years of service and a well earned retirement,” said Hollier. 

Theo Broughton, a 79-year-old African-American Detroit resident and active precinct delegate, is fond of the Diggs and John Conyers tenures in the U.S. House. She laments the prospect of a state congressional delegation without a Black member from southeastern Michigan. She is critical of Conyers, who represented her community for more than 50 years but “did not groom a successor” before he resigned in 2017. 

“We need to have someone from our community to represent us,” said Broughton. 

Democratic former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, who is a current Detroit Board of Educaiton member, on Tuesday evening posted on Facebook she is running for Congress after Lawrence’s retirement announcement, but didn’t indicate for what seat. She told the Advance on Wednesday that she is running in the 13th District. 

“I’m all the way in!” she posted on her Facebook page. She told the Advance on Wednesday that it is important to have an African American representing Detroit, which is 79% Black.  

“Detroit has the highest concentration of African American than major cities nationally,” said Gay-Dagnogo, who is Black. “There are a myriad of issues socially, economically and otherwise which requires representation of the people and by the people.”

Other possibilities to run in the 12th include Wayne County Commissioner David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights), a former state lawmaker, and state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), who both are white.

The deadline for filing for the Aug. 2 primary is April 19.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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