Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Michigan's only Black member of Congress, not running again

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  • Brenda Lawrence
    American politician
  • Rashida Tlaib
    American politician and attorney

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, announced Tuesday night she will not be running for reelection this year, meaning Michigan will lose its only current Black member of Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement released Wednesday: "Over her four terms in the House, Congresswoman Lawrence has been a force for equality and justice for all. ... She has long fought to lift up working women and communities of color — from better maternal health care, to more apprenticeship opportunities, to action on gun violence and more."

An initial statement sent out by Lawrence's office on Tuesday night did not explain her decision not to run for a fifth two-year term to the U.S. House. On Wednesday, she clarified that she was leaving to spend more time at home.

"This is the right time to turn the page and spend more time with my family — my husband, daughter, son and granddaughter — and put them first," she said.

It had been widely speculated that Lawrence was dissatisfied with the new redistricting process, which in final maps released late last month connected her home base of Southfield and the west side of Detroit with Dearborn, Westland and other parts of western Wayne County she has not represented.

On Wednesday, she said her decision was not motivated by those changes.

"Redistricting was not a factor in my decision," she said. "While it would have been a challenging race, I'm confident I would have been reelected."

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, announced she would run in that new district. Even though Tlaib lives in another part of Detroit, the new district connects much of the area she currently represents with Dearborn and Southfield.

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence speaks during a press conference at the Water Resource Recovery Facility in Detroit on July 8, 2021.
Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence speaks during a press conference at the Water Resource Recovery Facility in Detroit on July 8, 2021.

First elected to Congress in 2014, Lawrence represents a district that until now has connected Southfield and other parts of southeastern Oakland County with the east side of Detroit, downtown, Hamtramck and the Grosse Pointes.

"Today, after reflecting on my journey — and oh my goodness, what a journey — and having conversations with my family, I am announcing that I will not be seeking reelection to Congress," Lawrence said. "I'm incredibly grateful for the people of Michigan's 14th Congressional District who have placed their trust in me — in me, a little Black girl from the east side of Detroit."

More: Michigan's redistricting commission adopts final congressional map for the next decade

Lawrence, 67, said she will spend the rest of the year fighting to pass voting rights laws and protect women's rights and the environment. A former mayor of Southfield who ran unsuccessfully for Oakland County executive and lieutenant governor, she is the state's only Democratic member of the House Appropriations Committee.

She becomes the 25th Democratic member of the House to say she is not running for reelection this year. Only 11 Republican members have said they will not run. She is the only member of Michigan's delegation so far to say she is not running, though because of redistricting the state stands to lose at least two more of its current members.

U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, and Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, are both running in the same Oakland County-based district; U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland Township, and Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, are in the same district now in west Michigan and neither says he will move into a new district to run, though Upton has left open the possibility he may retire.

Lawrence's allies and others have raised questions about the new district boundaries, which were set by an independent commission and got rid of two majority Black districts currently in the state, the 14th, filled by Lawrence, and the 13th, which is filled by Tlaib. On Monday, some Detroit lawmakers said they plan to file suit against the new maps.

Michigan will lose one congressional seat due to faster population growth in other parts of the country, bringing its total number of seats to 13. As part of the redistricting process, Lawrence's home in Southfield was merged both with parts of Tlaib's district and Dearborn, which is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.

Dingell had already said that she planned to run in a new district anchored around Ann Arbor. Lawrence's decision, along with Tlaib's, is expected to set off a scramble to fill a solidly Democratic seat anchored in downtown Detroit, the Pointes and parts of Downriver.

There is also no question that Lawrence's departure will underscore concerns by Black voters, particularly in Detroit and its suburbs, that their political strength is being diluted.

"It is not lost on me that I'm currently the only Black member of the Michigan congressional delegation," Lawrence said, echoing those concerns. "Whether it's in the halls of Congress, city halls, or local school boards, representation matters."

Dingell called Lawrence's "commitment to her communities ... second to none."

"Throughout her 30 years in public service, she supported Michigan students while serving on the Southfield Public Schools Board of Education, gathered communities together as mayor of Southfield, and tied her work together as a representative fighting for American jobs and child care, among many other important issues, in Michigan’s 14th District. I’m thankful to have worked with Brenda."

Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women in Congress and who is Palestinian American, said it has been an honor to work alongside Lawrence.

"As a Detroiter, a Michigander and a woman of color in politics, I send my deep gratitude to Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence for her partnership and support," Tlaib said. "Detroit and its surrounding communities have been blessed to be represented by notable, historic and pioneering figures in Congress — Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence will truly go down in history as one."

Contact Todd Spangler at tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler. Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter.

Editor's note: An earlier version indicated Southfield would be in the newly drawn 13th District. That area is in the new 12th District as was already indicated in the story.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Brenda Lawrence, Michigan's only Black member of US House, won't run

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