Rep. John Conyers is 'petition insufficient,' write-in likely

Veteran congressman likely off ballot in bid for 26th term

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®

DETROIT - At 4:55 p.m. Friday, just minutes before our airtime at 5 p.m., Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett's office handed out a 2-inch thick report regarding the extensive investigation it performed on John Conyers' campaign nominating petitions.

While running out of Detroit's City-County building on a dead sprint I read the summary: "STAFF RECOMMENDATION: determine petition insufficient."

Here is the final count of his signatures: Total number of signatures filed: 2,000. Signatures discounted under face review: 764. Signatures discounted under challenge: 644. Total valid signatures: 592.

The legal threshold he needed to meet was 1,000. He is now 408 signatures shy of making the Aug. 5 primary ballot. The Elections Division of the Office of the Wayne County Clerk ended up with three different tallies for Conyers' valid signatures over the past couple of weeks.

The first look showed the congressman had 1,193. Then a second review turned up 43 more good signatures. This latest count, though, shows for all of the legal bills already racked up in this case, for all of the depositions the Conyers campaign has had its lawyers' take, for all of the energy that has gone into trying to "rehabilitate" signatures, getting on the ballot is likely to be exceptionally difficult and a write-in candidacy is probably in the offing along with a pitched legal battle.

This was not the only twist today in this ongoing and unlikely story. Earlier, I was contacted by one Daniel Alexander Pennington. He is the convicted felon who has both felony and misdemeanor warrants out for his arrest. He is also the person who contributed more than 300 signatures that are being challenged because he has been ruled by the city of Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey as not having been a registered voter when he collected his ballot signatures for the congressman at 75 cents apiece. We have been trying to get his side of this story for more than a week. Here is a summary of what he told Local 4 on the phone. [He understandably did not want to meet in person]

He told Local 4 he was, in fact, a registered voter, that he went down to the Detroit City Clerk's office on Dec. 13 to register to vote in person and received a state identification at the same time. This, of course, Janice Winfrey disputes heartily. He still backs Congressman John Conyers, calling him a great man and expects to see the congressman re-elected. He had harsh words for Conyers' opponent Rev. Horace Sheffield.

Pennington said his past has been unfairly exposed and Rev. Sheffield's marital difficulties and domestic violence allegations have been ignored. This, of course, ignores the fact that Local 4 reported this story when it happened, and I know personally because I not only did the stories, I broke the story!

Pennington says his criminal past -- that he openly admitted to -- is not important to the question of whether the congressman has enough valid signatures. While correct, he ignores the fact that the political optics for the Conyers campaign could not be worse. Pennington says he was not a rapist or murderer and that youthful indiscretions are common with everyone. He feels he is being persecuted while at the same time admitting he violated his parole.

The Michigan Department of Corrections told Local 4 it has a message for Daniel Pennington: "turn yourself in ... there are many police departments that are ready, willing and able to take him into custody." They added they will be stepping up their attempts to find him in the days to come.

Pennington skipped out on a yearlong probation sentence from a Battle Creek home invasion. He was in a treatment program and walked away. He now could be looking at between 17 months and 15 years in prison. Pennington told us he is working with his mother and an attorney to work out his issues with the state. He was uninterested in discussing the misdemeanor warrant that's awaiting him in Lansing. He said a lot of the problems he was involved with were when he was younger and he has now grown up into a Christian man and was working for the congressman's campaign to "make an honest dollar."

But there was one revelation that was inadvertent and yet telling. You see, a nominating petition sheet is a legal document. It says in bold type you must tell the truth when signing your name. Pennington admitted in our interview that he did not and had never lived at the address he swore to on his petitions. Election lawyers I have checked with say this is one surefire way to guarantee his signatures will be thrown out. Right now, the only hope for having Pennington's signatures made good for the congressman's campaign is if a federal court rules Michigan's requirement that circulators be registered voters unconstitutional. But with this revelation, the hopes of these signatures being "rehabilitated" is growing more dim by the minute.

Finally, the Conyers campaign has admitted it has had major problems today. It is starting fresh with a new leader, Democratic State Senator Bert Johnson of Detroit. He will now be heading up the campaign, whether traditional or write-in. He says he expects national Democratic money will flow to the congressman's district, campaign help will also start flowing and he will look to run this campaign in an infinitely more professional manner that is has been so far. He believes Detroit will rally around Conyers and return him to Washington. But it is going to take time, money and campaigning that the 84-year-old congressman hasn't done in at least a generation, because his has been a shoo-in for at least that long.

There will be legal challenges, there will be a lot of money spent on lawyers and campaigners and commercials that clearly wasn't planned. Whether it will be enough is the very expensive question tonight.

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