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Detroit Is 80% Black But May Not Have Black Congressional Representative For 1st Time Since 1950

Detroit Is 80% Black But May Not Have Black Congressional Representative For 1st Time Since 1950

Detroit

Photo: In this June 20, 2018, file photo, Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar on Aug. 2, 2022. (Michael Buck/Wood-TV8 via AP, POOL, File)

State Rep. Shri Thanedar won Michigan’s 13th Congressional District Democratic primary on Aug. 2, 2022, meaning that Detroit’s 80 percent Black population might not have a Black representative for the first time since the 1950s.

Michigan’s 13th congressional district is currently represented by Democrat Rashida Tlaib. Her current term ends on January 3, 2023. She will run for a third term in the newly created district, merging west Detroit with Dearborn, western Wayne County, and Southfield.

Michigan’s 13th congressional district includes portions of Detroit and some of its suburbs.

Thanedar grew up in Belgaum, India. After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at 18, he attended a master’s program at the University of Bombay. He moved to the United States in 1979 to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Akron, which he earned in 1982. Thanedar became a U.S. citizen in 1988.

Thanedar defeated state Rep. Adam Hollier and attorney Portia Roberson. Martell Bivings, who is Black, ran unopposed in the Republican primary for the 13th District. Bivings is a longshot to win the general election in the heavily Democratic district, U.S. News & World Report reported.


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Detroit has not been without a Black representative in Congress since before Charles Diggs Jr. took office in 1955. In 1965, Democrat John Conyers joined Diggs in Congress. Reparations advocate Conyers retained his congressional seat for more than 50 years.

Could Thanedar’s win over a field of nine signify Black Americans’ political failure? Or is there another reason beneath the surface?

Some observers say the Black Democrats’ failure is due to the 13th District being redrawn through redistricting after Michigan lost a seat following the census.

In January, the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission finalized the U.S. House and legislative maps that will last 10 years. While some say the plans are fairer politically to Democrats, the redrawing has drawn criticism from Black legislators and the state’s civil rights department because they slash the number of seats where Black voters account for a majority of the voting-age population, U.S. News & World Report reported.

Current and former Black state lawmakers in Detroit filed a lawsuit in January to block Michigan’s newly drawn congressional and legislative districts. They contend that the new map illegally dilutes the voting strength of African Americans. There were 15 such seats under the old map by the end of the decade: two in the U.S. House, two in the state Senate and 11 in the state House. Now there are seven, all in the state House, the Associated Press reported.

Thanedar’s victory confirms that claim, according to Nabih Ayad, an attorney for the group.
The suit alleges violations of the U.S. Voting Rights Act and the Michigan Constitution.
But it has also been pointed out that the Michigan Democratic failed to gain “a consensus African American candidate.”

“The first step in having a consensus candidate is picking the most qualified candidate,” said candidate Roberson. “That did not happen in this race.”

Photo: In this June 20, 2018, file photo, Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar gestures during a debate in Grand Rapids, Mich. Thanedar won Michigan’s 13th Congressional Democratic primary on Aug. 2, 2022, topping a field of nine candidates in a district that covers most of Detroit and potentially leaving the city next term without Black representation in Congress for the first time since the early 1950s. (Michael Buck/Wood-TV8 via AP, POOL, File)