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Clarke and Conyers may swap districts following Mich. Republicans’ redistricting plan

This report is part of collaboration with WNYC’s “It’s a Free Country” to cover the 25 most captivating congressional races from around the country.

In a move that may help them stay in office despite radical reformulations of their districts by the Republicans that control the state redistricting process, Detroit Democrats Hansen Clarke and John Conyers are expected to swap districts in the race for reelection in 2012.

Clarke, 54, the first member of Congress of Bangledeshi descent and a former chief of staff for Conyers, is serving his first term in the House.

In 2010 he defeated district 13‘s longtime Democratic representative, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick amid fallout from the corruption indictment of her husband and son, Kwame Kilpatrick, the former Detroit mayor.

Clarke’s district includes half of Detroit and the suburbs of Ecorse, River Rouge, Harper Woods, Wyandotte, Lincoln Park and Grosse Pointe.

Conyers, 82, is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and has represented the 14th district since 1965. This district encompasses Northwest Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck, Dearborn, Southgate and Trenton.

Michigan lost about 54,000 residents over the last decade according to the 2010 census, and will be losing one member of its Congressional delegation.

The new Republican-drawn district map seeks to ensure that it will be a Democrat that is eliminated.

Conyer’s district is one of the most dramatically changed, as the new map puts the majority of his voters into Hansen Clarke’s District 13.

Last week via Facebook and Twitter Clarke announced that he would seek reelection in the 14th district — the one the Conyers represents now.

Clarke said he made the announcement in order to end speculation and allow him to concentrate on his job.

“It was a decision that he made based on community support,” Clarke spokeswoman Kim Bowman said, noting that “business and community leaders stressed that they would like Representative Clarke to stay in the district and represent people he’s represented for a decade.”

Some say the move to switch districts should be seen as a favor to his old boss.

Conyers has had some bad publicity lately. His wife, former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, is in federal prison, convicted of bribery, and earlier this year he was forced to apologize and repay the U.S. Treasury $5,600 for his son’s inappropriate use of his taxpayer funded SUV.

Conyers has said that he will seek reelection but his office would not comment on where he will run.

Many political observers say that he will have a hard time winning if he stays where he is.

The Detroit News calls the new 14th district, “a land of opposites where political rules more than community similarities determine who is lumped together.”

Political commentator Jack Lessenberry describes it as “one of the most bizarrely gerrymandered districts in recent memory.”

“The district sweeps from the old moneyed Grosse Pointes across a swatch of Detroit, and then across Oakland County, taking in destitute Pontiac, the leafy suburban districts of Southfield and Farmington Hills, and heavily Jewish West Bloomfield and Oak Park,” he writes in a recent piece for Dome magazine.

Though the district still technically has a majority black population, Lessenberry said, the majority of primary voters may not be black and “few white voters are enthusiastic about being represented by the 82-year-old Conyers.”

Clarke who served terms in the state House and Senate, has already represented many of those who will be the constituents in the new 14th, and is seen as having a better chance than Conyers of winning it.

Inside Michigan Politics editor and former Republican state Senator Bill Ballenger, said that it would make sense for Clarke and Conyers to follow their constituents into new districts but their odds of success depend on how the field of challengers shapes up.

“[T]here is SO MUCH TIME between now and the filing deadline next May that it’s fruitless to speculate about who will file for what against whom,” he said via e-mail. “Will Conyers, now well into his 80s, even run again? [Rep. Dale] Kildee decided not to. We’ll see.”

In July, Democratic Representative Dale Kildee of Flint, 81 announced that he would not seek another term.

Ballenger’s comment about the possibility of Conyers retiring points to another evolving dynamic in Michigan’s delegation.

Though Republicans Fred Upton and Dave Camp [have attained leadership positions](<a href=) in the important House Energy and Ways and Means Committees and spots on the budget-cutting Congressional ‘supercommittee’, the overall influence of Michigan’s delegation is on the decline due to the loss of several longterm incumbents.

While Kilpatrick lost in a primary race, Vern Ehlers (R-Grand Rapids), Pete Hoekstra (R-Holland) and Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) decided to retire.

By seeking reelection in a more challenging district and allowing Conyers a better shot at keeping his seat, freshman Clarke may well prolong the tenure of one of Michigan’s most senior representatives.

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