Crowded Election Blamed for Detroit’s Lack of Black Representative

America’s Blackest city, will be left without a Black representative in Congress for the first time since the Jim Crow era

Shri Thanedar has secured the Democratic nomination for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District House seat. With the nomination, his place in Congress is all but guaranteed considering that the 13th District has voted overwhelmingly Democrat for decades. But his success in the area has raised a lot of concern amongst the Black leadership of Detroit. Because between Gary Peters in the Senate and Shri Thanedar bound for the House, Detroit, America’s Blackest city, will be left without a Black representative in Congress for the first time since the Jim Crow era.

Voters wait in line on election day in Southfield, Michigan (Clarence Tabb, Jr/Detroit News via AP, File)

How could this happen? Well, many Black politicians are pointing the finger at the eight Black candidates who ran for the House seat, who they say, split the Black vote.

“There were conversations that were had,” says Rep. Brenda Lawrence, incumbent of the old 12th District and the only Black House representative Detroit has left. “I know I had some, and other individuals had them, and again, you know, people were looking and saying, ‘I’m American. I have the right to run. You don’t tell me not to run.’ My appeal did not work. Individuals still ran. So, sometimes lessons are hard to learn.”

Representative Brenda Lawrence

The splitting of the vote was something that Black leadership had feared for quite some time. Back in March, a coalition of local Black officials came together to endorse a Black candidate for the seat, Adam Hollier. Wayne County Executive Warren Evans even expressed his concern at the time in an almost prophetic way.

“If we split up the vote too far, we as people of color, will end up in 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,” he stated. “Most of us have been around long enough to know that is very disconcerting to us.”


Hollier would end up coming in second place to Thanedar by almost 4,000 votes: a margin that could’ve been covered by the votes of one of the four other candidates.

Despite all the backlash and scrutiny this has brought him, Shri Thanedar won. The immigrant millionaire doesn’t see this election outcome as a stroke of luck or an undeserved privilege. “A majority of African Americans chose me,” he said in a recent radio interview. “My House District is 90 percent African American, and they have absolutely no problem choosing me. And I delivered to them. I never missed a single House session. I never missed a single committee meeting in Lansing. I never missed a vote in a committee. Never missed a vote in the House. So that’s the kind of work ethic you get. And when I ran for Congress, my House district is entirely in the 13th District, and that District overwhelmingly supported me.”

Detroit is only a few months away from being completely represented in Congress by non-Black people for the first time in almost 70 years, and nothing short of a political miracle can stop it. For now, African American leaders of the city will have to give Shri Thanedar a chance. But don’t be confused. He’ll still have to work hard for and with the people he’s representing to fully gain their trust.  

Mario Morrow, Democratic political consultant, encapsulates this sentiment amongst the Black leadership in the bluntest way possible, stating that, “He is going to definitely have to have a coming-to-Jesus meeting with the Black leadership of the 13th Congressional District, primarily in Detroit. And he is going to have to prove himself on bringing home the bacon and building bridges. And if he doesn’t, they’re coming after him in two years, and there will not be eight other people running against him. It will be a targeted, well-organized campaign.”

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