The 13th Congressional District Race is the Most Important Vote for Black Detroiters

As 2024 begins amid the cold winds of winter, it won’t be long before the political winds of elections heat up and shine bright spotlights on national, regional, and local races and the candidates running in pursuit of votes. For portions of Detroit and some of its surrounding suburbs, the spotlight will perhaps shine the brightest on Michigan’s 13th Congressional District in 2024, where fierce campaigns are expected to be mounted by candidates in primary and general elections to ultimately decide who will stand and lead on Capitol Hill in 2025. Democratic Congressman Shri Thanedar now represents the 13th.

The reconfigured 13th Congressional District – often called “The Mighty 13th  – consists of parts of Detroit, along with Allen Park, Dearborn Heights (portions), Ecorse, all the Grosse Pointes, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, Highland Park, Lincoln Park, Melvindale, River Rouge, Romulus, Southgate, Taylor,  Wayne, and Wyandotte. With a population hovering around 757,463, The Mighty 13th is comprised of a Black population of about 48.2 percent, making the heavily Democratic district a “Majority-Minority.”

From the mid-1950s until 2019, the 13th Congressional seat on Capitol Hill has been occupied by African Americans. Rashida Tlaib, an American Muslim with Palestinian heritage, broke the pattern, after she was elected in 2018 and re-elected in the 13th in 2020. Tlaib is now the congresswoman of the 12th Congressional District after redistricting. Thanedar, who is Indian-American, will be making a bid for a second term in the 13th this year.

Adam Hollier (D), an African American, is officially in the race and wants to unseat Thanedar after losing to him in the August 2022 primary.   On the Republican side, Martell Bivings, also an African American, has officially entered the race for the second time. Thanedar soundly defeated him in the November 2022 general election. And there may be more candidates – possibly many more – in pursuit of the office. The filing deadline for candidates is April 23.

Thanedar, born in Southern India, moved to America in 1979 and became a citizen in 1988. His website says he was a successful researcher and entrepreneur before turning to public service. Thanedar unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan against Gretchen Whitmer in 2018 and finished third in the Democratic primary. Yet, he beat Whitmer in Detroit. In 2020, he successfully ran for a seat in the Michigan Legislature and ultimately won the 13th Congressional race in 2022.

Hollier, a native Detroiter, is a former Michigan State Senator, where he represented the 2nd Senate District, serving Wayne County, including Detroit, the Grosse Pointes, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, and Highland Park from 2018 to 2022. Hollier’s website describes his adult life as a broad journey in public service. In 2023, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked Hollier, a veteran, to join her cabinet, appointing him Director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. He later resigned to run again for the 13th Congressional seat.

Bivings is a native Detroiter who has served as a policy analyst for the City of Detroit, advisor to Councilmember Scott Benson, and a business liaison for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation before running as a Republican for the 13th Congressional District for the first time in 2022. The Howard University alum has been described as a civic-minded policy professional.

At this juncture of the new year, it’s impossible to know – with certainty – if the race for the Democrats running for the 13th Congressional seat in the August 6, 2024 primary will mirror their race in 2022 when nine candidates appeared on the primary ballot. In that election, voters delivered Thanedar the primary victory with 28.3% of the votes, followed by Hollier (23.5%) and Portia Roberson (16.9%).

With eight of the nine Democratic candidates identifying as African Americans in the 2022 primary, it was predictable that a split of the Black votes was inevitable. Many political stakeholders and pundits believe another crowded field of African Americans running in the 2024 primary in August is not a winning formula for African Americans to reclaim the 13th seat in 2025.

In the coming weeks and months, it’s unknown whether top Black political officials and local democratic power brokers will form a “consensus-candidate” panel similar to the one in early 2022. At that time, Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans convened a broad group of Black Democratic stakeholders to establish and facilitate a fair and transparent process for identifying and backing a “consensus candidate” to give Detroit a better chance of having a Black congressional member on Capitol Hill.

“If we as people of color split up the vote too far, we cause a situation where we can be the only state with this significant of an African American population that does not have a representative in Congress,” Evans said at a March 2022 press conference. “Most of us have been around long enough to know that is very disconcerting to us.”

The Evans-led “candidate-consensus” group, called the Legacy Committee for Unified Leadership, vetted and supported Hollier in the August 2022 primary election. When Hollier lost the primary and Bivings was defeated in the general, the 13th Congressional voters’ voices were clear:  Thanedar was their choice for U.S. Congress, even though electing Bivings, a Republican, would have kept the 13th seat Black.

With Thanedar’s victory in the 2022 general, coupled with the retirement of Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich) in January 2023, no other Black Congresspersons are representing “any part of Detroit.”

A sidebar note is that Republican John James, a U.S. House of Representatives member, is now the only African American from Michigan on Capitol Hill. However, James represents cities and towns in Macomb and Oakland Counties (District 10)…Detroit is not included.

“It’s a very emotional time and I’m not going to try to sugarcoat it,”  Rick Blocker, a Michigan Democratic Party official in Detroit, was quoted in a local newspaper about the Blackout of representation for the Motor City.   “We’re very disappointed that a city with the largest percentage of Black people doesn’t have any Black representation. As a Black person and as a Black leader of an organization, I’m not happy.”

To Blocker’s point, the 13th  Congressional District has a grand history of electing African Americans to represent the storied district, inclusive of parts of Detroit, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Charles Diggs, a Democrat from Detroit, was the first African American from Michigan to serve the 13th in the U.S. House of Representatives (1955 – 1980). The list of other Black U.S. House of Representatives “representing the 13th have included George Crockett Jr. (1980 – 1991), Barbara-Rose Collins (1991 –  1993), Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (2003 – 2011), Hansen Clarke (2011 – 2013), John Conyers (2013 – 2017), and Brenda Jones (in a special election to finish Conyers’ term 2018 to 2019). It should be noted that Conyers, in 1964, won an open seat to represent Michigan’s 1st District in Congress. After redistricting in the early 1990s, Conyers’ district was renumbered the 14th  before becoming the 13th Congressional District.

Whether or not Detroit will regain Black representation in the 13th Congressional District after this year’s primary on August 6 and the general on November 5, as always, is up to the people. Registering to vote and turning out the vote in both elections as informed voters should be the norm for any election. In essence, let the voters’ voices be heard this year at the polls in the 13th and beyond.

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