DETROIT — On the day City Councilwoman Monica Conyers stepped into a federal courtroom at home in Detroit to plead guilty to bribery, her husband was at home in Washington. Several of Rep. John Conyers' colleagues in the U.S. House said they weren't aware his wife could soon wind up spending five years in prison.
Rather than take the easy shot, the top Republican on the House ethics committee declined to comment. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said "it shouldn't have any impact at all" on John Conyers' work in the House.
A few thousand dollars in bribes — including one accepted outside a Detroit fast-food restaurant named Mr. Fish — have all but ended the short political career of Monica Conyers. They haven't made so much as a dent in the decades-long political career of John Conyers, a reserved yet adamant advocate for Detroit and Michigan who appears almost indifferent to the corruption scandal at home.
"My inclination is that John Conyers' constituency is extremely independent of hers," Wayne State University political science professor Lyke Thompson said. "He has worked long and hard to build up his own electoral base. ... He is well-known for his accomplishments in Washington."
It's in Washington where the 80-year-old Conyers spends most of his time, apart from the wife who was born in 1964 — the same year he was first elected to the House. He's rarely seen with Monica Conyers and the couple's two sons, and has said little about the scandal that had swirled for more than year around his politically ambitious wife.
Congressman has no comment on case
On Friday, as his wife was in a courtroom pleading guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery, Conyers declined to answer a reporter's questions as he walked to the House floor for a vote. "I have no comment whatsoever," he said.
"This has been a trying time for the Conyers family and, with hope and prayer, they will make it through this as a family," the Congressman's office said in a statement minutes after Monica Conyers entered her plea. "Public officials must expect to be held to the highest ethical and legal standards. With this in mind, Mr. Conyers wants to work towards helping his family and city recover from this serious matter."
Prosecutors said Friday that Monica Conyers accepted two payments in late 2007 to support a city contract that would pay $47 million to Texas-based Synagro Technologies to recycle wastewater sludge and build a modern incinerator in Detroit. The council voted 5-4 to approve the deal, with Conyers supplying the decisive vote.
"She's going to have to resign immediately, or (as) soon as she is sentenced," Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning said. "She will be out of office within two months. This is just blatant bribery, the perception that someone on the Detroit City Council can be bought."
Wife's bribery case isn't affecting Conyers' career
Prosecutors have taken care to say John Conyers knew nothing about the bribery, and there are no signs it will affect his standing among voters who have sent him back to Congress every two years with at least 82 percent of the ballot since he was first elected.
A former aide in Conyers' House office, Monica Esters married her boss in 1990. The couple has two sons: the eldest carries his father's name and is a student at the University of Georgia. The younger son, Carl, attends the prestigious Cranbrook school in suburban Detroit.
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She was a political rookie who largely campaigned on her husband's name in 2005 when she won election to the nine-member council, and her four years in office have been defined by petty squabbling and name-calling. During a public hearing last year, she drew headlines for calling Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. "Shrek" — a reference to the green movie ogre.
"Is the city going to get competent elected officials or people with a name?" Henning said. "The name Conyers has been very powerful. Will this be a turning point for the city? It's going to be up for the voters to decide."
The nearly yearlong perjury investigation followed a text-messaging sex scandal involving ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, a draining collection of City Hall wrongdoing in a city struggling with high unemployment, rampant home foreclosures and an unforgiving economy.
"It is unfortunate that our city must, again, endure another set of unethical circumstances surrounding elected officials," Mayor Dave Bing said in a statement. "This is further evidence of the need for and respect of strong ethical standards. However, we must stay focused on the job at hand — rebuilding and moving Detroit forward."
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