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Detroit Congressman Clarke calls race allegations a "sickening" distraction; says he won't debate

Detroit Congressman Hansen Clarke says his political opponents are trying to smear him by raising questions about his racial heritage.

And on Tuesday, he made it clear he’s had enough.

Clarke is in a tough primary fight against three other Democrats in Michigan’s newly-redrawn 14th district.

Rumors and a death certificate have surfaced claiming that Clarke’s mother was white.

Clarke says she was African-American. And late last week, he said he wouldn’t participate in any more candidate debates because of his opponents “racist rhetoric.”

Asked to be more specific about that accusation Tuesday, Clarke said he was fed up with the whole issue.

“Is that clear? I’m sick and tired of this nonsense,” he told reporters when the question came up. “And this is the very reason I refuse to be involved in these debates.”

Clarke says his mother was a light-skinned black woman who suffered “horrific discrimination.” He called the questions about her race “outrageous” and “sickening,” and says they’re a distraction from Detroit’s real needs at “a critical time.”

“This is why the political system in this city and this region has not worked,” Clarke said. “The outrage should be about young boys going to prison. The outrage should be about people losing their homes. The outrage should be about the debt that our graduates are bearing. Not someone’s mother, and whether she was black or not.”

Clarke faces three other Democrats in the August primary, including Oakland County Congressman Gary Peters; Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence; and former State Representative Mary Waters.

All of those candidates have denied bringing up the issue of Clarke’s heritage, though Waters has publicly called herself "the only black Detroiter" in the race.

On Tuesday night, Peters’ campaign released a statement that read, in part:

“Congressman Clarke has made some very serious yet very vague allegations. He should clearly and specifically tell us whom he is accusing of questioning his heritage in this campaign… I believe the voters deserve to know that neither I nor anyone associated with my campaign would ever attack anyone’s heritage or race. That said, I agree with Congressman Clarke that race should not be a factor in this election.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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