The sexual harassment scandal surrounding Michigan Democrat Rep. John Conyers has shed light on another major scandal: Conyers’ deteriorating mental health, which is said to have been an open secret in Washington and Michigan political circles.
That the 88-year-old Conyers, until recently a ranking member on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, is reportedly losing his mental health is emerging as common knowledge among political insiders at the same time that Democrats push Conyers toward resigning.
Conyers is accused of serially sexually harassing his female staffers and demanding sexual favors from them, and Democrats have struggled to control the political blowback stemming from the accusations.
Conyers’ reportedly deteriorating mental health has been hinted at in Michigan political circles for years.
Michigan newspaper The News Herald deemed Conyers unfit to hold office in a 2014 editorial. “Accounts of the 84-year-old’s seeming disinterest in the job or downright absentmindedness aren’t hard to come by,” the column stated.
“Conyers is no longer fit to serve, and those close to him must know it,” Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley wrote the same year.
“I don’t know whether he has dementia, Alzheimer’s, senility or some other form of diminished mental capacity,” Finley added. “It’s just clear that he’s not quite right.”
Conyers’ political opponents in Michigan have tried to turn his reportedly deteriorating mental health into a campaign issue.
“The congressman is not all there,” the Rev. Horace Sheffield said in 2014, when he unsuccessfully ran against Conyers in the Democratic primary. Conyers, Sheffield said, “is not the person he once was.”
In a February 2014 column titled, “We need to learn how to talk about the mental health of our aging representatives,” Michigan Radio’s Jack Lessenberry wrote that “in recent years, [Conyers’] behavior has sometimes been erratic, to say the least.”
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Tiffany Hayden, a Michigan woman who challenged Conyers as a Libertarian in 2016, tried to make his mental faculties a campaign issue. Hayden charged that Conyers’ “mental health has severely deteriorated.”
Conyers’ deteriorating mental health has re-emerged as an underlying storyline as Democrats try to control the damage from Conyers’ reported predation of female staffers. (RELATED: Conyers’ Attorney Hints At ‘Allegations’ Against ‘Many Members’ Of The House And Senate)
“John Conyers has not been all there, mentally, for some time. Every top Dem in MI and DC knows that,” said Politico Magazine writer Tim Alberta, adding that Conyers may lack “the capacity to understand what’s happening right now” and “doesn’t belong in Congress.”
A New York Times article last week noted that Conyers has “already handed over much of the day-to-day committee work to staff aides and other Democratic members in recent years, and has often appeared disoriented.”
“In at least two separate occasions — once at a United Automobile Workers event in Michigan and once at a meeting of top Democrats on Capitol Hill — Mr. Conyers showed up wearing pajamas, according to two people familiar with the incidents,” the Times reported. Conyers’ office denied that report.
Business Insider editor Josh Barro noted that Conyers is “widely reputed to be losing his mental faculties.” ABC News’ Terry Moran described Conyers as having “sharply declining mental capacities.”
Conyers has faced increasing pressure among congressional Democrats to resign as his scandal impacts the party’s credibility. (RELATED: Dem Congresswoman: John Conyers Should Resign Over ‘Repulsive’ Sexual Harassment Allegations)
On Tuesday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal became the second Democratic congresswoman to call on Conyers to resign.
“It is not easy for me to reach this conclusion because, as a civil rights activist, I have looked up to Representative Conyers for decades,” Javapal said in a statement. “I believe these women, I see the pattern and there is only one conclusion – Rep. Conyers must resign.”
Five different woman now have accused Conyers of sexually harassing them. Sworn affidavits signed by four of Conyers’ former staffers describe him as a serial sexual harasser who would prey on his female staffers.
Conyers settled with one of his former staffers in 2015 after she accused him of firing her in revenge after she refused his sexual advances. Conyers’ office paid the woman more than $27,000 in taxpayer funds in exchange for signing a confidentiality agreement.
The congressman did not have to admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement, although the former staffer is now demanding that Conyers release her from the confidentiality agreement.
The Congressional Black Caucus is reportedly looking into ways for Conyers to resign without ruining his legacy. One CBC staffer told CNN that “There is a feeling among some of our members that we need to protect his legacy.”
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