Aug 8, 2022 - Politics

Detroit's last chance at Black representation

Former 13th District candidate Sam Riddle (left) debates Martell Bivings, the Republican nominee in the 13th District Congressional race at a candidate forum last month.

Former 13th District candidate Sam Riddle (left) debates Martell Bivings, the Republican nominee in the 13th District Congressional race at a candidate forum last month. Photo: Samuel Robinson/Axios

Michigan Republicans nominated three Black congressional candidates in last week's primary.

Driving the news: Despite last year's controversial redistricting process essentially ending the chance for Black Democrats to represent Michigan after November, Detroit's 70-year run of Black representation in Congress still isn't totally out of the picture.

The intrigue: After state Rep. Shri Thanedar won the Black vote in Detroit's 13th congressional District Democratic primary, defeating Black candidates Portia Roberson and state Sen. Adam Hollier, Republican Martell Bivings, becomes the race's lone Black candidate.

  • He tells Axios he's feeling pressure "to legislate, liberate and better position the citizens of Detroit."

Details: Bivings, 35, is a Howard University graduate who works for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.

  • A school choice advocate who supports reparations for African Americans, Bivings says he doesn't buy into conspiracies that the 2020 election was stolen and is focused on delivering change for the people he grew up with in Detroit.

Catch up fast: Michigan's Independent Redistricting Commission redrew congressional and legislative districts last year. Maps were made significantly more competitive where Republicans have held an advantage for decades, giving Democrats a shot at a legislative majority.

Yes, but: The changes greatly reduced the number of Black majority districts, which spurred lawsuits and criticism from Black lawmakers.

  • "The Democratic Party has tricked us to think it is synonymous with blackness and in the process we have lost representation," Bivings tells Axios. "Representation matters."

What they're saying: "We've said all along, Democrats through the 'independent' redistricting commission were silencing voices across Michigan," Gustavo Portela, communications director for the Michigan Republican Party, tells Axios.

  • "(The redistricting commission) was a front to twist the Voting Rights Act and willfully gerrymander black voters out of representation," John James, a Black Republican running in the state's 10th Congressional District, tells Axios.
  • "People are going to be bellyaching about no Black representation, but I guarantee they won't even give this brother (Bivings) a look," Wayne Bradley, the former state director of African American engagement for the RNC, tells Axios.

The other side: Representation is important, but what matters most is candidates dedicated to policy that actually improves people's quality of life, says Branden Snyder, executive director of Detroit Action.

  • "[Republicans] are more bound to the status quo and to the folks who are harming our communities than Adam Hollier could ever be," he says, adding that for many, Thanedar felt like a more receptive candidate than Hollier, who was backed by Mayor Mike Duggan.
  • "It is too bad the greatest hope to have African-American representation in the congressional delegation lies in these extreme [Republican] candidates who are antithetical to what African-Americans believe all over the place," political consultant Greg Bowens tells Axios.

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