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Rep. John Conyers, most senior member of House, retires amid accusations of sexual harassment

Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, said he was retiring effective Tuesday after his support among fellow Democrats collapsed amid accusations of sexual harassment by several female employees.

Conyers endorsed his son, John Conyers III, in a rambling radio interview with Detroit host Mildred Gaddis.

"I am retiring today, and I want everyone to know how much I appreciate the support, incredible undiminished support I've received," Conyers said.

Conyers' use of the word "retiring" rather than "resigning" left some uncertainty over when he was vacating the congressional seat he has held since 1965. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) later said on the House floor that Conyers had made his retirement official as of Tuesday. Conyers' replacement will be chosen in a special election.

The Detroit-area seat is strongly Democratic, so Conyers' departure will not affect the balance of power in the House. But it does set up a potential family fight: While the congressman endorsed his son to succeed him, a great-nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers, has publicly said he intended to seek the seat.

The announcement by Conyers, came after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), fellow Congressional Black Caucus leader Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and increasing numbers of House members urged him to quit as former aides offered detailed accounts of inappropriate sexual advances he had made over decades.

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A longtime civil rights activist -- the only remaining member of Congress who was elected in the 1960s -- Conyers is the highest-profile political figure to be forced from office in the midst of a national debate over sexual harassment that began weeks ago with accusations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

Conyers had denied any wrongdoing, although on Nov. 26, he agreed to step down as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee in what served as the first acknowledgment of his vulnerability.

The accusations against Conyers, who is 88, had preoccupied members of the Democratic leadership, who were reluctant to be seen pushing out a leading African American member of Congress who was widely respected for his advocacy.

At the same time, Democratic activists have been pushing for the party to take the lead in cracking down on sexual misconduct. Democrats have been trying to argue that voters in Alabama should turn aside the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Roy Moore, because of accusations by several women that he had made advances on them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. One of the women has accused Moore of a sexual assault.

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