|State Rep-elect Abdullah Hammoud at a Dearborn polling location.|
DEARBORN — Sealing his promise to Dearborn voters, Abdullah Hammoud, the Democratic candidate for the 15th District in the State House of Representatives, became the first Arab American Muslim man to win that seat.
An aura of unease and suspense set in Tuesday night, as Arab American voters, poll volunteers and campaigners closely examined maps in anticipation of the presidential election results.
There was no doubt the 2016 election was going to be a historic one, and that was especially true among Dearborn’s local races.
As soon as polls closed at 8 p.m., a handful of local Arab American candidates and their campaigns gathered at various venues, relentlessly updating poll numbers. Some tight races meant some candidates needed both victory and concession speeches prepared.
Early on at Hammoud’s gathering at the Leaders Advancing and Helping Communities (LAHC), formerly known as the Lebanese American Heritage Club, volunteers and the representative-elect were optimistic.
A few hours later, results revealed that 61.6 percent of Dearborn voters preferred Hammoud over his Republican opponent, WWE superstar Terrance Guido Gerin.
Cheers and jeers permeated the hall and an abundance of hugs were exchanged among the exhausted volunteers.
But they were not overly surprised.
Hammoud told The AANews he felt great and relieved to win the race, but knew that struggle still lay ahead.
“Tomorrow the real work begins,” he told volunteers. “It’s a scary, though, that Michigan elected a Muslim Arab American for the first time out of Dearborn, but Trump might win Michigan.”
Hammoud acknowledged the challenge of finding a sense of bipartisanship to work with constituents across the aisle to address the issues city most cares about.
He will be the first Arab Muslim to represent Dearborn in the state legislature, following in the footsteps of Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian Muslim who represented Detroit from 2009 to 2014.
However, Hammoud said he never ran as a Muslim or Arab candidate, but as Dearborn’s, which he said was well received in the community.
Ghida Dagher, Hammoud’s campaigner manager, echoed the sentiment and said he will be a “good bridge and liaison from our community in Dearborn and the surrounding area as he approaches state-wide issues.”
She added that issues focused around healthcare, the environment, education and transportation are based on conversations the Hammoud campaign had with residents for about a year, combined with his background in environment and healthcare policy.
Dagher added that Hammoud did not always have support, especially during the campaign’s launch. He faced some discrimination from community members during the primaries. When the first campaign flyer was sent out in January announcing Hammoud’s candidacy, she said the campaign received a ripped up copy in the mail, with an attached note saying, “No more Arabs, no more Muslims. Go back to your country.”
This happened again as the general elections approached, she added.
Often, doors were slammed as they campaigned, with some residents saying they didn’t support Muslims.
But the hard work of conveying Hammoud’s message finally payed off. She said his election reflects Michigan’s diversity in the State Legislature.
Another issue some voters had with the candidate was his age.
At 26, Hammoud had a tough time convincing some residents that he had what it would take to represent them in Lansing.
Mustafa Ajami, a campaign volunteer, said while most voters seemed to have their minds made up going into the polls, those who stopped to ask about Hammoud expressed concern over his limited experience in politics.
But Ajami, who has known the candidate for years, called him “an old soul.”
He assured supporters that as the campaign has been centered around a representative “from the community, for the community”, Hammoud will be determined to shed light among his peers on issues
Zeinab Sareini, another volunteer, said she noticed that the presidential election attracted many who had never voted before. The first-time voters were often the ones who had questions about local candidates.
When Hammoud’s age came up, Sareini said it was an opportunity for her to discuss what he has accomplished – and most were impressed.
She added that there is an assumption the representative will have to tackle some setbacks as a Muslim Democrat in a majority Republican State House, but that he will prove to be tenacious in fighting for the community’s interests.