Conyers Suddenly Retires from Congress Following Scandal

Leaves Strong Legacy on Civil Rights

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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The longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives recently announced that he will step down immediately because of health reasons amid a burgeoning sexual harassment scandal.

FILE -- In this file photo from Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., attends a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the top Democrat in the House, said today, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, that Conyers should resign, saying the accusations are "very credible.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)
John Conyers, Jr., who served in the U.S. House from 1965-2017, has officially announced his retirement amid news of a sexual harassment scandal. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who has been a member of the U.S. Congress since 1965 and is considered the dean of the House, announced on a radio program on Dec. 5, that he will resign, effective immediately.

“I am retiring today,” Conyers said. “I am in the process of putting together my retirement plans. I will have more on that soon.

“My legacy can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we are going through now. This too shall pass. My legacy will continue through my children.”

Towards the end of November, news leaked of a sexual harassment settlement between Conyers and a former staffer. The House ethics committee is currently investigating the settlement that was paid with taxpayer money. Since news of the settlement broke, other women have come forward with sexual harassment allegation against the Michigan congressman. But, Conyers isn’t the only congress member to face sexual harassment accusations. On Dec. 6, several Senate Democrats called for the resignation of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) after seven women came forward with sexual harassment allegations.

The representative formally submitted his letter of resignation to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and U.S. House Speaker Paull Ryan (R-Wisc.). Both Pelosi and Ryan wanted Conyers to step down because of allegations of sexual harassment in his years on Capitol Hill.

Even Conyers’s old friend, Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) called for him to step down.

Conyers, 88, leaves Capitol Hill with a potent legislative record. He was the primary sponsor of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday bill that President Reagan signed in 1983 and has passed bills that have expanded voter access to the ballot.

He was a primary force behind the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 and the Alcohol Warning Label Act of 1988, and the Jazz Preservation Act of 1987. Conyers supported statehood for the District of Columbia, often following the lead of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) on issues relating to the city and was a strong proponent of legislation leveling sanctions against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.

Conyers, along with the late Barbara Jordan of Texas, were eloquent voices in the impeachment hearings of President Nixon in the 1970s and even though he was a freshman, he helped to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Conyers has sponsored a bill that would study reparations for Blacks as a result of the legacy of slavery and recently authored legislation that would establish a single-payer healthcare system in the United States.

In 2007, the NAACP awarded Conyers its prestigious Spingarn Award, an award given to Blacks who have made the highest or noblest achievement.

Conyers was also a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus. He is the last founder of the CBC to leave the Congress.

Kamara Jones, the spokeswoman for the CBC, told the AFRO that U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who serves as the caucus chairman, hasn’t made a statement on the departure of Conyers.

Conyers served as chairman of the Oversight and Judiciary committees and was the ranking Democrat when the Republicans controlled the House chamber. He ran for mayor of Detroit unsuccessfully in 1989 and 1993.

Conyers is a graduate of Wayne State University undergrad and its law school. He worked for Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) before becoming a member of Congress.

Conyers said that he wants his son, John Conyers III, to succeed him but there are reports that Ian Conyers, a state senator in Michigan and a great-nephew, is interested in the congressional seat, too.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has to call a special election to replace Conyers as a result of receiving his resignation letter.

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