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Supporters Of Michigan Rep. Conyers Challenged With More Harassment Allegations


John Conyers has represented Detroit in Congress since 1965. NPR's Don Gonyea was in the city today talking Conyers' constituents. He found lots of support for the congressman and some critics who agree with those saying he should resign. Hi, Don.


SIEGEL: Some background here - for many people in his district, John Conyers has just always been there. He was a champion of the civil rights movement. He was on the House Judiciary Committee when it voted to impeach President Nixon. More recently, he pushed for reparations for African-Americans. How are they processing the fact that he's now among the prominent men accused of sexual harassment?

GONYEA: And something we can add to that list - there is a street just a few blocks from where I sit that is called John Conyers Boulevard. So yeah, this is Conyers country. There's a rallying around him, certainly. You can hear it when you turn on one of the African-American talk radio shows in this city. There's an urban gospel station called WPZR with a morning talk show, "The Mildred Gaddis Show," and all morning today, there was call after call like this.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Don't step down. Do not let these people push you out of office. We got a president who said the most - oh, my God - horrible things, and you're holding office as president. So call his office and encourage him. Don't step down.

GONYEA: And after her show, I talked to the host, Ms. Gaddis. She is a strong defender of Conyers, and she says there's a double standard. White politicians like President Trump who has faced a list of sexual harassment allegations is not facing sustained calls to step down - same with Senator Al Franken. So why is Congressman Conyers being pushed to step down, she asked.

MILDRED GADDIS: I am shocked. I am shocked that people are not saying, wait just a second. You're moving too swiftly here. Where's the evidence? Were there any rules of the House broken? Were there any laws broken? Let's find out. But instead, they're painting him as a criminal.

SIEGEL: Don, when you've heard people taking that view, are they taking into account his legacy when they take that position?

GONYEA: Certainly for many, that is a lot of it. And they say that's why they'll keep supporting him at the ballot box or wherever, especially since he denies what are still allegations here. Let me play one more piece of tape for you now. This is 69-year-old Stewart Barnes. I talked to him on Woodward Avenue downtown. He says he's heard all he needs to know, though. Sure, Conyers is a legend, he says, but he believes the women. That's just his default position. Here he is.

STEWART BARNES: You know, like they said, I believe the women. And like anyone else, he needs to resign.

GONYEA: How do we weigh Conyers' legacy in the middle of all of this?

BARNES: Well, he has done some good things, and he evidently did some bad things. So it depends on the individual how - that you would want to weigh his legacy.

SIEGEL: But Don, I gather you're saying that that's the less popular point of view even though the Detroit Free Press, with a long tradition of taking liberal positions, has called on Conyers to step down.

GONYEA: Right. And among Conyers' supporters, there's some anger at the Free Press, and even among some of his critics, you find people who say that call was premature, that there are a lot of facts still not known. This voter, Kasiris Xavier - he was also on Woodward Avenue. He's 36 years old, says he supports Conyers, and he thinks it's all getting caught up in this national story of high-profile sexual harassment cases.

KASIRIS XAVIER: If you ask me, at the end of the day, I think when - if these individuals felt so disrespected and violated, they should have brought it to the public's attention when it happened, not after Harvey Weinstein's situation. I think now there's a lot of people just trying to ride that bandwagon.

SIEGEL: And Representative Conyers himself is in Detroit today.

GONYEA: Yes. There's a big media scrum outside his house. So far, he has not been seen - so far no indication he's going to resign.

SIEGEL: NPR's Don Gonyea in Detroit. Don, thanks.

GONYEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.