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Gary Peters Finds Strength Along 8 Mile

Shira Toeplitz/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Gary Peters talks to Ron and Robyn Markoe while campaigning door-to-door in the Sherwood Forest neighborhood of Detroit last weekend.

DETROIT — Rep. Gary Peters sways to the gospel music, drops a bill in the offering bucket and shoots up his right hand when the bishop exclaims, “Praise Him!”

He stands out in the entirely black congregation at Greater Emmanuel Institutional Church of God in Christ — his fifth of six church services Sunday morning.

“This is my Congressman. I voted for him and will continue to vote for him,” Bishop J. Drew Sheard said. “I didn’t tell you what to do. I just told you what I’m going to do.”

The enigmatic sermon is a tough act for Peters to follow. The two-term Democrat is many things in Michigan politics: a methodological campaigner, affable policy nerd — and probably the next Congressman to represent much of downtown Detroit. But Peters possesses all the expected charisma of an Episcopalian former financial manager from the suburbs (which he is).

Nonetheless, he is poised to defeat fellow Rep. Hansen Clarke in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in the majority-black 14th district. Clarke, an elected official from downtown Detroit for more than 20 years, boasts a Bengali father and black mother.

“I would like to see one of my own in Congress all the time,” said Patrice Brown, a member of the congregation at Greater Emmanuel. “But it’s OK that he’s not black. As long as he’s doing the right thing.”

Sheard offered the pulpit to Peters, who described the most notable vote of his career to the congregation: the health care overhaul law. Peters recalled he thought his Congressional career was over as he pushed the “yes” button. It almost was. He won re-election by 3 points in a highly competitive, suburban Detroit district.

“No matter who you are, and no matter where you live, you should be entitled to health care in the United States of America,” Peters told the parishioners Sunday. “I was proud to stand with our president  — President Barack Obama!”

From the Suburbs to 8 Mile

Ironically, if Peters had voted against the bill, it would have immensely hurt his chances this cycle. The redrawn 14th district is heavily Democratic, and the average income level is a fraction of what it is in his current district.

Michigan lost a House seat because of population decline, and Republicans targeted Peters in their decennial redraw of the Congressional map. They moved Peters into the district of Rep. Sander Levin (D), but his home is only a few hundred yards outside the 14th district boundaries.

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