Arab American will run for governor of Michigan as a Democrat in 2018
By TYLER CLIFFORD
Crain’s Detroit Business
Detroit’s public health director Abdul El-Sayed, M.D., said he will resign and run for governor of Michigan as a Democrat in 2018.
El-Sayed said he submitted his two-week notice of resignation Monday, with his last day being Feb. 17. He will begin to conceive a campaign platform, assemble staff and officially announce his candidacy in the upcoming weeks.
“Right now, I’m focused on taking care of our health department to make sure that I leave it better than how I found it and to make sure the transition is smooth,” he told Crain’s on Thursday.
El-Sayed, 32, was appointed executive director of the Detroit Department of Health & Wellness Promotion in 2015 by Mayor Mike Duggan. He was tasked to rebuild the city’s health department after it was privatized in 2012 ahead of the city’s bankruptcy proceedings.
El-Sayed said his office has overhauled the city’s animal care and control office, developed a program to address infant mortality, streamlined the asthma attack database and tested all Detroit schools for lead exposure. He said he stood up to Marathon Petroleum’s push to increase emissions in southwest Detroit and got the company to invest $10 million to reduce emissions.
Although he has never run for public office, El-Sayed said his work as a public health doctor has prepared him for the challenge.
“I understand what it means to build institutions that provide public good,” he said. “We rebuilt the health department after privatization in 2012 and have since doubled our staff and increased the budget.”
The son of Egyptian immigrants and a product of public education, El-Sayed said he is running because America is blessed to have a government that is for the people, by the people. He thinks Michigan’s public health issues and failing public schools are a result of the state being run like a business, so he could not ask anyone to stand up for people and not be willing to do it himself.
“I’m a doctor, an educator and public servant and that’s what I will be as governor,” he said. “We care about equity as an end unto itself and we believe in evidence and science to make a decision. It’s been eroding in Washington and Lansing. As the child of Egyptian immigrants and a millennial, I feel we have to look to state leadership to get answers and I want to challenge that. We are a part of this and can contribute to it.”
El-Sayed is a 2007 graduate of the University of Michigan, Rhodes Scholar, 2011 graduate of University of Oxford and 2014 graduate of Columbia University’s medical school. He is a former assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University. El-Sayed lives in downtown Detroit with his wife, who is a mental health doctor. El-Sayed was recognized in Crain’s 40 Under 40 class of 2016.
“I know how much my family values this country as a religious minority and I believe we have a responsibility to stand up for our government,” he said. “We have an opportunity to come together to be motivated by inspiration rather than fear. We are stronger than that; we are stronger together. I want to build a campaign that we can believe in and that values diversity and our strengths.”
El-Sayed joins former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing and lower-profile candidates William Cobbs of Farmington Hills, Kentiel White of Southgate and Justin Giroux of Wayland as Democrats who have announced intentions to run. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township has yet to confirm that he will run.
On the Republican side, Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette are expected to run. Other Republican candidates include Jim Hines of Saginaw, Mark McFarlin of Pinconning and Evan Space of Grand Rapids.
Current Gov. Rick Snyder is term-limited and not able to run for a third-term. The filing deadline is in April.