DEARBORN — Arab Americans are regarding Tuesday's statewide primary elections as historic, after Attorney Sam Salamey brought home a first-place finish in the race for a seat on the bench in Dearborn's 19th District Court, making him the first Arab American to outpace an incumbent in a primary, although Arab Americans account for more than 40 percent of the city's population.
He will face second-place finisher and chief judge Richard Wygonik, the incumbent, in November for the seat.
"Sam Salamey emigrated to the United States from Lebanon. He is an example of what people in our community can accomplish. He represents lots of the Arab Americans here, and honestly an Arab American judge in Dearborn's 19th District court is way overdue," a woman volunteering for Salamey’s campaign outside Salina Elementary School said.
A surge in Arab American voter turnout in Dearborn is also being regarded as an important and pleasant surprise to local political pundits. Voter turnout in the previous primaries had always been low and disappointing. According to raw election results voter participation reached 25 percent in some precincts on the east side of Dearborn; a drastic increase from the 2008 presidential primary and even 2010 gubernatorial election. There were reports that by 1:30 p.m. the total number of ballots cast at various precincts outnumbered the number of ballots cast by the end of the day during the 2010 gubernatorial election.
Some of the city’s precincts with the highest number of cast ballots included Precinct 31 with 1588 registered voters and 503 cast ballots; Precinct 41 with 1412 total registered voters, 497 cast ballots; Precinct 3 had 1803 total registered voters and 457 ballots were cast.
McDonald Elementary School where precincts one and two were located the strongest voter turnouts in East Dearborn. There was a total of 2,670 registered voters combined at the two precincts; the voter turnout was 623. Despite the high number of Arab Americans who voted on the east side of the city, the west side which has less Arab residents, still maintained a greater voter turnout.
|Arab women played a significant role in the primary elections.|
Perhaps one of the most noteworthy outcomes of Salamey’s victory is that he managed to beat incumbent Richard Wygonik by more than 800 votes. Salamey’s victory left people speculating on the impact Arab Americans had on the overall voter turnout. Rashid Baydoun, AAPAC member and executive director of the Arab American Civil Rights League says the results from the elections show the influence Arab Americans can have over the outcome of elections.
"It's about time for Arabs in our community to get together. We have to support each other and there are enough of us in this community to make sure we have some officials representing us," said Nada Cheikh, a Dearborn voter.
The Arab American youth played a crucial role in the voter turnout. Young volunteers from the Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC), Sam Salamey campaign and the Arab American Student Union at the University of Michigan Dearborn, worked tirelessly on election day while fasting for Ramadan during grueling hot 90 degree temperatures. "The youth were really at the forefront of all this," Baydoun said. Volunteers from the groups were spotted at various precincts, and even knocked on doors encouraging residents to go out and vote on Tuesday.
"This has been a pretty good turnout for the primary, and also the fact that it's Ramadan, I’d say overall the turnout has been greater than it was in previous years. From what I’ve seen, Salamey has been the candidate that turned out the most voters. This was probably a very strong district for him," said Jackline Zaidan, who campaigned at a precinct here.
Because of Ramadan, people came out to vote in greater numbers during the afternoon.
Grassroots efforts spearheaded by the organizations included door to door measures, robo-calls and social media campaigning.
Social media played a major role in helping get people to vote. Baydoun is a Dearborn precinct delegate, and says this year the number of Arab American precinct delegates has increased noticeably.
AAPAC’s endorsements also helped get the community active in the political process. The endorsements had influence over who Arab Americans voted for. AAPAC slates were distributed by volunteers outside voting precincts, and announced in The Arab American News (TAAN). When asked who he was voting for, one Arab American man said he was supporting all the candidates endorsed by AAPAC, because he believes the group has the best interest of the Arab American community.
Claudia Bazzi, a Dearborn resident and recent Fordson High School graduate, campaigned on election day at the Lowery School precinct on behalf of AAPAC. Bazzi says she felt very confident in the candidates the group chose to endorse, and was trying get the same message across to local voters.
|Arab American voters cast their votes in Dearborn in 2012 primary election.|
Volunteers spent hours at their assigned precinct locations from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Arab women were also more active this time around. Nuha Sulieman, a voter from District 9 at Maples school and current college student at Oakland University, came out early to place her vote for Lebanese American Adel Harb who ran for Wayne County Circuit Judge. She says the number of older Arab women she saw at the polls encouraged her to come out to the voting precincts a second time, bringing her friends along with her to vote as well. She said she noticed several women wearing the Islamic head scarf out voting.
"I am really surprised…I was really proud of them. If these older women are out here voting today, there should be no reason why the younger generation shouldn't be participating either. It encouraged me to call my friends and get them out here to vote. I think if everyone brought along two or three friends in the general elections, it could easily make a difference," Suileman said.
Speaking to TAAN by phone only hours before the polls closed Harb reflected on the months of hard work he put into his campaign.
“People think when you campaign you can just put a sign on a lawn and call it a day. That’s not the case, it really does take so much time and effort. It takes away time from your family and other aspects of your life.” He’s been embraced by the Arab American community since the start of his campaign. “The community has been supportive of me emotionally and financially, and I thank them for that,” Harb said.
Arab American Hussein Berry who ran for state representative in Michigan’s 9th House District also lost in the race. Part of the reason Hussein lost the election may be attributed to the fact that the district only includes a small portion of Dearborn where he is widely known in the community for serving as a member of the Dearborn School Board. The rest of the district is comprised of solely Detroit. Dearborn residents could only vote for Berry at precincts that were part of the district.
Also losing in the Primary was current Dearborn Judge Mark Somers, who ran as a candidate for Wayne County Circuit Court Judge. Despite coming in at number one in Dearborn, Somers won't be advancing to the general election. He issued the following statement:
"Our undying gratitude goes out to everyone who has helped along the way throughout Wayne County. Although we won't be advancing to the general election in November for the Circuit Court, our convincing number one finish in Dearborn is a heartwarming reminder that those who know us best have always been there to support us."
Voter turnout in Dearborn could have been greater if three precincts didn’t open their doors late. Several Dearborn voters were turned away after laptops didn’t arrive on time. For the first time ever the city is using computerized systems to verify voter identification, as opposed to before when they used booklets. In one booklet a sticker would appear near someone's name, then after they voted the sticker would be removed and placed in another booklet so that no one could vote under that person's name again. City officials offered to hand deliver ballots to residents who were affected by the incident.
Ali Sahoubah, a poll volunteer, said if Sam Salamey is successful in the general election, he will serve as a role model to other Arab Americans.
"Voting is important. People have died just to have the opportunity for Americans to exercise this right," Erinn Magee, an election day volunteer, said.