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Democrats vying for John Conyers' empty Congressional seat talk issues in Detroit

Michigan's 13th congressional district

Three of the six candidates vying to represent Michigan’s 13th Congressional district showed up for a candidate forum at a Detroit church on Saturday.

The 13th district covers parts of Detroit and western Wayne County. The seat in Congress has been vacant since December, when longtime Congressman John Conyers resigned amidst sexual harassment allegations.

Conyers endorsed his son, John the Third, to replace him. But Conyers III is now fighting just to get on the ballot, after being disqualified for not getting enough valid petition signatures.

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, Westland Mayor Bill Wild, and State Senator Coleman Young II came out for Saturday’s forum in Detroit. 

They discussed criminal justice reform, labor rights, and how to deal with sexual assault and misconduct on college campuses and elsewhere.

Young says he favors harsher penalties, and erasing the statute of limitations on most sex crimes.

“This is going to keep happening unless people are held accountable. The only way this is going to stop, is we start locking people up,” Young said.

All three candidates touted their pro-union credentials, and said they support federal legislation repealing state right-to-work laws, though Wild admitted getting such legislation through Congress would be a Herculean task. But Wild said federal lawmakers should still push for a repeal of Michigan’s right-to-work law.

“As your congressperson, I will stand with you in Lansing and help you get this repealed locally. I won’t be one of those congresspeople that say ‘Oh, that’s a state thing, I don’t want to dip my toes in somebody else’s pond there,’” Wild said.

All three candidates also supported raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Jones said she also supports free vocational education. “There are skilled trades jobs that are out there, if they’re able to get that apprenticeship training free,” she said.

Xochitl Orozco questioned the candidates at Saturday’s forum. She’s an undocumented immigrant who’s currently temporarily protected under the Deferred Authorization for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which is tied up in the court system after President Trump set a deadline for it to expire earlier this year.

Orozco criticized some of the candidates for not having some of their facts straight on DACA and other immigration issues. She says they voiced support for immigrants, but seemed disconnected from their current reality, including the constant threat of profiling and detention by law enforcement in immigrant communities.

“I think right now, more than support, we need a true fighter in Washington,” said Orozco, who encouraged the candidates to “spend some genuine time in the communities you want to represent.”

All six candidates in the race are Democrats.  State Senator Ian Conyers, John Conyers’ great-nephew, and former Detroit state representatives Rashida Tlaib and Shanelle Jackson round out the field.

The winner of that party’s August primary will go to Congress, because no Republicans are on the ballot.

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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