Arab Americans Make Historic First Wins in Mayoral Races in Michigan
By: Leyelle Mosallam / Arab America Contributing Writer
Abdullah Hammoud was elected to be Dearborn, Michigan’s first Arab American and Mayor since Dearborn began electing mayors 86 years ago. Abdullah Hammoud defeated Gary Woronchak with 54.6% of the votes to 45.2% of the votes. This is a historic win for Dearborn. Dearborn has a history of racist mayors, and with a dominant Arab American population in Dearborn, Dearborn residents elected a candidate that will serve his community’s best interests at heart. Hammoud promises to move Dearborn forward.
“Dearborn is the greatest city in the country, but has suffered from complacency for far too long” — Abdullah Hammoud
Along with Abdullah Hammoud, Arab American’s Bill Bazzi and Amer Ghalib were elected the first Arab American mayors of the city of Dearborn Heights, and Hamtramck.
Arab Americans are among the most distinguished candidates across the United States seeking elections in local municipal offices on November 2nd. Tunisian American, Annissa Essaibi George, ran for mayor of Boston, and Lebanese American, Hala Ayla ran for Virginia’s lieutenant governor.
Electing Arab Americans in government positions is an important contribution to the Arab American community. Electing an Arab American in office fully immerses the Arab American community, and allows the Arab American community to come together to ensure their voices are being heard. Meet some of the candidates who ran for the November elections here.
Abdullah Hammoud – Dearborn, Michigan
The heart of Arab America, Dearborn, Michigan, experienced their most historic election on Tuesday after electing their very first Arab American, Abdullah Hammoud, for mayor. Abdullah Hammoud is a 31-year-old Lebanese American who ran against Gary Woronchak, a 66-year-old former Michigan state representative and an American veteran. Electing Dearborn’s first Arab American mayor may sound surprising for many because Dearborn is known to have the highest population of Arabs in the US. But, despite having a high Arab population, political representation among Arabs in Dearborn still remains relatively new.
However, Abdullah Hammoud was never running to be the first Arab American mayor of Dearborn, he was running to be the best mayor that he can possibly be for the city of Dearborn, a city that is in need of a mayor that can bring its city’s residents together in order to move forward and tackle Dearborn’s pressing issues.
“We’re not running to be first, we are running to be the best”
John B. O’Reilly was the city of Dearborn’s mayor for 17 years. After testing positive for COVID-19 and experiencing undisclosed health conditions, O’Reilly announced that he will not be running for re-election. This meant that Dearborn would not have an incumbent candidate on the ballot.
Citizens of Dearborn are ready for a change. Dearborn is a relatively diverse city, however, it is inherently divided between poorer and more rich affluent neighborhoods. Residents of the south end of Dearborn, which has a large Yemeni community, often feel neglected and have a history of being negatively stereotyped. This past summer Dearborn residents experienced the worst flooding since 2014. Almost 65% of Dearborn’s homes were flooded due to rain, but the floods hit Dearborn’s poorest neighborhoods the hardest. The people of Dearborn are looking for a mayor that will listen and hear the complaints of its constituents no matter which community they come from, and Dearborn citizens are confident that Hammoud will be there for all communities within Dearborn.
Abdullah Hammoud is looking to re-build Dearborn’s poor infrastructure, lower property taxes, and end speeding and reckless driving to address the safety concerns of Dearborn residents.
Although Abdullah Hammoud is not aiming for the “first Arab American mayor” title, having an Arab American mayor in Dearborn is greatly significant for the Dearborn community. It makes it clear to Arab Americans that they can vote with their own interests, which will create more leverage for Arab Americans to vote.
Hammoud did get called out by Woronchak when Hammoud emphasized the Arab and Muslim community as “our community”. Woronchak argued that if Hammoud wanted to stand with the Dearborn community, then he should stand with all residents of Dearborn and not just one specific group. The racism in Dearborn has always been evident, however, Hammoud was trying to urge the Arab American community to vote. Having an Arab American mayor really defines the Arab American population in Dearborn.
Bill Bazzi, Mayor-Elect, Dearborn Heights, Michigan
The Arab population in Dearborn Heights now makes up ⅓ (32%) of the population, and the Lebanese population is the largest ethnic group in Dearborn Heights.
Dearborn Heights former mayor Dan Paletko died after testing positive for COVID-19 in January. When he died, chairwoman Denise Malinowski-Maxwell took over as interim mayor, however in January, on November 2nd voters will cast their vote for two positions, one to fill the remaining term in office when it ends on December 31st and the 4-year term beginning January 2022.
Bill Bazzi is a Lebanese American who ran for Dearborn Heights mayor. He was born in Lebanon and immigrated to the United States when he was 10 years old. From 1999 to 2016, he served in the Marine Corps Reserve. Bazzi was also a part of the State Department and Arab American Institute that helped improve democracy and development in Tunisia and Morocco. Bill Bazzi worked on the Dearborn Heights city council since 2017.
Despite Dearborn Height’s high Arab population, and Bill Bazzi being a Lebanese-Muslim American, he does not see himself as representative of one Arab community. The Dearborn Heights population is also 8% black and 22% of its citizens are immigrants.
“I’m being elected to serve the residents. … I never really consider myself anything different or anybody different than the person next to me.”
Similar to Dearborn, Dearborn Heights is struggling with its diminishing infrastructure. Dearborn Heights also experienced floods this past summer and Bill Bazzi has been implementing steps to place long-term solutions to the flood problem.
This November, Bill Bazzi ran against Maxwell in the November elections. Bazzi won this November’s mayoral election with 73% of the votes.
Amer Ghalib, Mayor-Elect, Hamtramck, Michigan
Amer Ghalib is a Yemeni American who ran against Mayor Karen Majewski. Ghalib was born in Yemen and came to the United States when he was 17 years old.
Hamtramck city became the first Muslim majority city council in the country in 2015. The Hamtramck November election was something to watch because the current Mayor, Majewski, came second in the primary election. That was a surprising win considering Ghalib is a political newcomer and Majewski was mayor for four years. Ghalib believed that his campaign had political momentum because it will “lift the voices of Hamtramck residents.” Ghalib’s campaign was also endorsed by three Yemeni political groups, including Yemeni American Political Action Committee.
Hamtramck has a large Yemeni and Bangladesh population who are trying to seek more recognition and political power within the city. The Yemeni population makes up 25% of the city and the Bangladeshi population makes up 26.8% of the city.
Ghalib decided to run for mayor because he believes his people are being misrepresented in city hall.
“I decided to run for a change because I feel that people are disconnected and ignored and misrepresented in the City Hall,”Amer Ghalib
The majority of the city council is made up of one ethnic group and Ghalib wants to change that.
Amer Ghalib won by 68% of the votes.
Annissa Essaibi George – Mayoral Candidate, Boston, Massachusetts
Annissa is part Tunisian and Polish and she ran against Michelle Wu, a Taiwanese American. This year’s mayoral election in Boston is historic because this was the first time Boston elected a female mayor of color.
The two candidates represented a large ethnic diverse city. For a city historically dominated by white men, this is a big step for Boston.
Annissa hasn’t always identified herself as a woman of color, primarily because Arab Americans don’t fit neatly in a box. Annissa is also constantly being asked about the obstacles of her identity as her father is a Muslim immigrant from Tunisia and her mother is a Catholic immigrant from Poland. Regardless, Annissa is working on having the Arab community in Boston be heard and acknowledges that Arab Americans are not always accurately represented because they do not have a verbal box on the census to check.
Unfortunately, Annissa lost in the race. But, it was still a great fight and a way to represent the Arab community in Boston.
Hala Ayala – Lieutenant Governor Candidate, Virginia
Hala Ayala, who is part Lebanese, ran as a Democrat for Virginia’s lieutenant governor over Republican Winsome Sears. This position is important because the lieutenant governor is next in line to become governor in the event of a vacancy, and they serve as president of the Virginia senate who runs floor sessions and casts breakout votes.
Hala is a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, who she represents Virginia’s 51st district.
Hala is North African and Salvadorian from her father’s side, and Irish and Lebanese from her mom’s side. As her identity encompasses different ethnic groups, Hala represents the growing diversity of Virginia, which she sees as a part of Virginia’s growing future. Hala also hopes to expand access to health care, enact climate change initiatives, and increase funding for apprenticeship and internship programs.
Winning results have not been posted for Hala Ayala’s race as of this posting.
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