POLITICS: PennAve

John Conyers' Democratic opponent has interesting past

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Politics,Betsy Woodruff,Detroit,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Michigan

It’s time to meet Horace Sheffield.

Since the Wayne County clerk announced on Tuesday that 25-term Michigan Democratic incumbent congressman John Conyers didn't present enough correctly gathered signatures to have his name on the ballot, the Rev. Horace Sheffield will be the only Democrat listed for the Aug. 5 primary.

And for Great Lakes State Democrats, that's not the best-case scenario. The state party is standing staunchly behind Conyers, who has served in Congress since 1965.

“He has earned the respect of his peers and of families all over Michigan, and we're confident that at the end of this process, he will continue to fight for us in Congress,” said Michigan Democratic Party chairman Lon Johnson in a statement.

Sheffield is the alternative. Despite Conyers’ surprising hiccup, Michigan Republicans concur that its odds of turning the district red are nonexistent. For Conyers to get his name on the general election ballot, he has to either win a timely court decision or defeat Sheffield in a general-election write-in campaign. And that could make for some interesting politicking.

Sheffield, the pastor of Detroit-based New Destiny Christian Fellowship, is the kind of candidate whose oppo file writes itself. In February, per the Detroit Free Press, he was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence. Deadline Detroit, citing a police report, reported that Sheffield's estranged wife hadn't been living with him for two weeks when she came back to his house to pick up some belongings. They argued, she tried to call the police, and she told police he grabbed the phone from her. Sheffield's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

MLive reports that in 2011, a former special education teacher at Detroit Cares Alternative Academy (which Sheffield founded) said he twisted her arm behind her back and brought her to her knees. She filed a police report but didn't press charges.

Those aren't the only eyebrow-raising headlines featuring Sheffield. The Detroit Free Press reported that a construction contractor who testified against former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is suing Sheffield for defamation, seeking $25,000. Sheffield and Kilpatrick were close; in one Facebook post, the reverend described the now-incarcerated mayor as “[m]y other son.”

Now, none of that means Sheffield would have trouble getting elected.

“Horace Sheffield certainly meets the standards that Wayne County voters impose on their member of Congress,” said Mark Grebner, a Michigan Democratic consultant. “I am certain that he fully meets those standards.”

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