The Madness of Monica Conyers

[Gautham Nagesh]

Greetings folks, it's an honor to be part of the team for the week. I spend my days covering federal technology for Nextgov and have also written for National Journal. My main interests are sports, government waste, fried foods and anything involving my home state of Michigan.

One note on Neil's post: I actually interviewed for a job with Vibe when I was in college, where I was asked to name my three favorite rap albums of all time. At the time I replied Ready to Die, Aquemini and Midnight Marauders. Apparently that was not the right answer, because the interviewer did a double take and I didn't get the job.

My topic for today is the ongoing train wreck that is soon-to-be-former Detroit City Council member Monica Conyers. Conyers announced her resignation from office this week after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in a scandal over a city sludge-hauling contract. If that makes her sounds like a character from The Wire, then you've got a pretty good idea of what kind of politician Conyers has proven to be. From the Detroit News:

Conyers faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty Friday in federal court to allegations she sold her vote on a $1.2 billion sludge hauling contract to Synagro Technologies Inc. for a pair of $3,000 bribes. Federal officials say no other council members will face charges in the 2007deal.

The News was also kind enough to put together a brief highlight reel of some of Conyers' most memorable public mishaps:

Conyers, the wife of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, made headlines even before taking office when she allegedly got into a fight during a birthday party and slugged a woman. No one was charged in the incident.

During her tenure, Monica Conyers put an aunt and her son on city payroll, used city police to escort her to Atlanta and Florida, had police officers chauffeur her children to private school in Oakland County and had spats with colleagues, including an infamous one with Kenneth Cockrel that ended with her calling him "Shrek."

Yes, that's the same Congressman Conyers who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. John Conyers is now facing scrutiny himself after his wife's former aide and political consultant Sam Riddle told the Detroit Free Press on Monday about a letter Rep. Conyers sent in 2007 to the EPA in support of an effort by Detroit businessman Jim Papas to build a hazardous waste injection well in his district. Conyers had previously opposed the well publicly in 2003 and 2004 citing environmental concerns, but that was before Papas indirectly contributed $10,000 to Monica Conyers.

It seems unlikely that John Conyers will meet the same fate as his wife, mostly because it's hard to believe even if he did play some role in her dealings that he would be similarly cavalier about the possibility of getting caught. The Synagro case has been going on for over a year and yet during that period of time Monica Conyers has done nothing but draw attention to herself by causing controversies on the City Council and fiercely attacking her many opponents.

She even launched her own show on local television, "Ask the Councilwoman", where she takes calls from her supporters and admonishes her critics. I've been watching the show on YouTube whenever possible and I have to say my favorite episode was June 9, when she interviewed Princeton University professor Cornel West and dissed Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as too conservative and unaccomplished. Conyers graduated from the University of the District of Columbia's law school but has reportedly failed the bar exam four times and does not practice law.

Now that she's facing three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, here's hoping voters have seen the last of Conyers, who hinted at a mayoral run even as the prosecutors circled closer. Her name will remain on the ballot in the August 4th primary for the Detroit City Council, where it will hopefully serve as a warning to others seeking to enrich themselves on the city's dime.

After spending the last couple years embroiled in the saga of disgraced former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (whose mother Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick is also a Congresswoman and under investigation by the House Ethics Committee), the city deserves leaders interested in something besides lining their own pockets. Another Council member, Motown singer Martha Reeves referred to the Council as her "second job" in an interview with the BBC this week. Hopefully this fall's elections will produce some candidates more interested in fixing the city than dancing in the streets.

Update: Commenter Erik Love provides a link to this classic Monica Conyers moment, where she loses a debate to an elementary school student. It starts with bonus footage of the infamous meeting where she dubbed Council President Ken Cockrel "Shrek":