Community Leaders Fight to Ensure District Has Black Leadership

Adam Hollier, Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, and Shri Thanedar are some of the 10 contenders for the reconfigured 13th majority-minority Congressional District, which covers much of Detroit, all of Highland Park, Hamtramck, and the Grosse Pointes. The district includes Allen Park, Dearborn Heights, Ecorse, Lincoln Park, Melvindale, River Rouge, Romulus, Southgate, Taylor, Wayne, and Wyandotte.



When Rep. Brenda Lawrence (MI-14) announced in January that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term in Congress, it sent shockwaves locally and nationally.  Locally, many expected Lawrence, a Democrat and Michigan’s lone Black Lawmaker on Capitol Hill, to run for re-election in the revamped 12th District after the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission adopted – amid much controversy – new congressional and state legislative maps.    

On the coattail of Lawrence’s announcement, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) announced that she wouldn’t run for re-election in the 13th Congressional District, instead opting to run in the         redrawn 12th District, leaving the door to the Mighty 13th wide open.  

The reconfigured 13th is a “majority-minority” district, with Black people making up 45% of the population.  In addition to much of Detroit and all of Highland Park, Hamtramck, and the Grosse Pointes, the district includes Allen Park, Dearborn Heights, Ecorse, Lincoln Park, Melvindale, River Rouge, Romulus, Southgate, Taylor, Wayne, and Wyandotte. 

With the many political moving parts afoot – known and unknown – a floodgate of Black candidates have emerged with eyes on the open congressional seat in the 13th.  To date, the African American candidates – all Democrats – who have filed to run or seriously considering a run at Congress include John Conyers III (the late Congressman John Conyers Jr.’s son), Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (former state representative, current Detroit School Board member), Michael Griffie (educator, attorney), Sharon McPhail (attorney, former city council member), Adam Hollier (state senator), Angela McIntosh (business owner), Toni Mua (social change advocate), Portia Roberson (CEO, Focus: Hope), and Lorrie Rutledge (business owner).  Non-African Americans running are Rogelio Landin (Director, U.S. Mexico Chamber of Commerce), Shri Thanedar (state senator), and Adrian Tonon (Detroit’s Economy Ambassador).  The deadline for filing is April 19.    

In an effort to prevent splitting Black votes, Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans convened a coalition called the Legacy Committee for Unified Leadership.  The group represented a broad sector of Detroit’s core makeup, including politics, religion, community and civil rights advocacy, business, labor unions, and education.  The committee’s goal:  select a “consensus candidate” who would galvanize Black voters and win.   

In March, the coalition selected State Senator Adam Hollier as its “consensus candidate.”  Some of the 20-plus members of the committee included Dr. Yvette McElroy Anderson (Director, Fannie Lou Hamer PAC), Rev. Wendell Anthony (Senior Pastor, Fellowship Chapel, President, NAACP Detroit), Rev. Dr. Steve Bland, Jr. (Senior Pastor, Liberty Temple Baptist Church, President, Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit & Vicinity), Marvin Beatty (developer and business owner) Bishop Edgar Vann (Senior Pastor, Second Ebenezer Church), Kandia Milton (Chair, The Black Slate, Inc.), Negus Vu (The People’s Action), and Ric Preuss (business agent, IBEW Local 58).   

“Our goal was simple,” said Evans. “We wanted to come together in unity to put our collective power behind the candidate with the best chance to win the seat.  Adam Hollier’s political and military experience, along with the fact that he has worked hard to serve constituents of the 19 diverse communities within the district, sets him apart from the other candidates.  He has a strong fundraising team and a campaign network to compete on the national level.”  

“I’m incredibly grateful that the committee selected me,” Hollier told the Chronicle.  “But I wasn’t introducing myself to the Legacy Committee.  The committee knew me through the work that I’ve done. I’ve won two state senate elections in the 13th.  The people in the district know me, and they know my work.”  

Hollier also picked up endorsements from the DNC Black Caucus, chaired by Virgie M. Rollins, and has garnered support from veterans and the Bengali, South Asian, and White communities across the district.    

Other candidates have picked up key endorsements.  Congresswoman Lawrence has emphatically endorsed Portia Roberson, calling the Focus: Hope CEO “ethical, with integrity and the skills to tap into federal resources and address the needs of the district she will represent.” 

“I’m thrilled to have Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence’s endorsement and support,” Roberson said.  “The congresswoman is quite familiar with my work locally and nationally. But, I have to work hard to win because you can’t be anointed or appointed to Congress.” 

Roberson has picked up endorsements from the Caroline French Club, comprised of about 60 prominent African American women in and around Detroit who want a Black woman to win the 13th Congressional seat.  Wayne County Prosecutor Kim Worthy has also endorsed Roberson. 

Before ascending to Focus: Hope’s top executive position, Roberson was a criminal defense attorney in the current Duggan administration and later worked for Worthy.  On the federal level, Roberson was appointed by then-President Barack Obama to serve as Director of the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison.  She subsequently was the Detroit Lead for the White House Domestic Policy Office’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative.  Roberson is the current chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.   

Former City Council member and attorney Sharon McPhail, a long-time fixture in Detroit political and law circles, has picked up a key endorsement from the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus.  McPhail also topped a recent poll conducted by Target Insyght of Lansing.    

“I’ve known Sharon McPhail since 1993 when she ran for mayor,” said Keith Williams, chair, Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus.  “She cares deeply about Black people and her work to empower Black people speaks for itself.  She has loved  this community for decades.  Many candidates say they love the community, but I ask, ‘Are they in the community?’ ”   

Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, according to her campaign’s website, has received endorsements from the legendary Judge Greg Mathis, the Honorable Teola Hunter, Wendell Byrd, Detroit City Councilmembers James Tate, Angela Whitfield Calloway, and Fred Durhal, III.  Pastors Ethan Sheard, Oscar King, Ovella Davis, and Spencer T. Ellis, and other clergy have endorsed Gay-Dagnogo.  Endorsements from Harper Woods Mayor Valerie Kindle and Eastpointe Mayor Monique Owens have gone to the candidate.   

A staffer for former City Council legends Clyde Cleveland and Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, Gay-Dagnogo, a former Detroit teacher, is an at-large member of the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education.  Prior to her election to the board, Gay-Dagnogo was a four-term member of the Michigan House of Representatives (8th District).  She was the first woman to chair the Michigan Legislative Detroit Caucus and the first Urban Education Advisory chair.  Gay-Dagnogo was lauded by the Legal Aid and Defenders Association for her passion and commitment to sponsoring or co-sponsoring key legislation signed into law, many associated with criminal justice reform and equal access to justice. 

Most political insiders believe the Democratic candidate who wins the Primary Election on Aug. 2, 2022, will win the General Election on Nov. 8 since the 13th Congressional is a stronghold for Democratic voters.  Historically speaking, the Mighty 13th has sent a long list of African American Democrats to Capitol Hill, beginning with Charles Diggs elected in 1954, followed by George Crockett, Jr., Barbara-Rose Collins, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Hansen Clarke, and John Conyers.  Brenda Jones was elected to complete Conyers’ final term in Congress.  

While endorsements and doing well in the polls are good, the voters are the real endorsers.   Many political insiders believe if the 13th is to elect an African American to Congress, Black voters must voice their choice at the polls or via absentee ballots in big numbers.  If Thanedar wins the 13th Congressional seat and Tlaib is victorious in the 12th, there will be no African Americans in congress representing Black Detroiters and neighboring cities with substantial Black populations when the 118th Congress convenes in January 2023.  

Nevertheless, Keith Williams said, “let the process work” to make sure Black Detroiters continue to have Black representation in Congress.     

“Right now, the political people are making decisions, but ultimately, it’s the voters in the community and from block clubs and community groups who will determine the winner in the 13th  – and 12th, for that matter,” said Williams.  “If we want to win and keep those districts Black, we must maximize our efforts with seniors because the Millenniums – God bless them – are not as engaged in the political process.”  


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