DEARBORN — The Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC) has selected its endorsements in two key local races for the primary election, which will take place on Tuesday, August 2.
Formed in 1998, AAPAC's membership consists of a diverse group of Arab American professionals who work to organize and encourage the political activities of Arab Americans.
They lobby on behalf of Arab American political causes that may be of concern to the community and bring these issues to the attention of the candidates, before deciding on appropriate endorsements.
Over the last several weeks, AAPAC has been conducting a series of endorsement interviews with candidates for various offices.
The organization only interviews candidates who submit a written request asking for an endorsement. Candidates must obtain two-thirds of the votes by members who are in good standing with the organization, according to its by-laws.
On Wednesday evening, the organization held a meeting at The AANews office to vote on endorsements. The members discussed and debated the merits of the various candidates and their positions before casting their votes.
15th District state representative race
AAPAC endorsed Abdullah Hammoud as the Democratic candidate. Hammoud, 25, a healthcare advisor for Henry Ford Health System and Health Alliance Plan, has also worked with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, a non-partisan environmental organization that aims to protect Michigan's land, air and water, as an outlet that has allowed him to gain expertise in public health issues.
Hammoud, who is also an AAPAC member, told The AANews that he was honored by the endorsement.
"To have their support means a lot," he said. "I'm humbled. I've volunteered with them for some time and it's different being a candidate. They are respected in our community; they represent our community positively."
Hammoud was also recently endorsed by Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and State Sen. David Knezek (D- Dearborn Heights).
Hammoud promised that if he wins a seat in Lansing he would consult with AAPAC to ensure that the community's voice is heard.
"In the future, we will strengthen our relationship where I can lean on AAPAC in order to help voice our concerns and provide results to better our community overall," he said.
AAPAC also endorsed Paul Sophiea, an independent consultant who specializes in health care related fields, as the Republican candidate.
Last year, Sophiea was appointed to Gov. Snyder's Middle Eastern American Affairs Commission.
In perhaps the most competitive race yet, AAPAC interviewed five of the six candidates vying for the state representative. The other candidates interviewed were Brian Stone, a veteran; Jackie Zeidan, a local activist and Roxanne McDonald, a Dearborn School Board Trustee.
19th District Court judge
AAPAC endorsed UAW Legal Services attorney Abbie Bazzi for the heated Dearborn Judge race.
Bazzi will be vying for the seat against Dearborn City Council President Susan Dabaja and Dearborn attorney Gene Hunt. The candidates are looking to replace Judge William C. Hultgren, whose term concludes at the end of the year.
All of the candidates were interviewed for the endorsement.
Bazzi and Dabaja are both AAPAC members and were able to cast votes for themselves during the endorsement process.
"It's an honor to be endorsed by AAPAC," Bazzi said. "A lot of community members respect the AAPAC endorsement. It will have a positive impact on my campaign."
AAPAC endorsed Dabaja in 2013, when she ran for City Council and ended up earning the most votes. However, some AAPAC members expressed concerns that because Dabaja's term doesn't expire until the beginning of 2018, the community would be losing an important position on council if she were elected judge. In that case, the eight highest vote-getter in the 2013 city council race, Patrick Melton, would fill her vacancy.
AAPAC president Mona Fadlallah said the majority of the members were present during the voting process and those who weren't were able to cast a vote via text.
Fadlallah said AAPAC members deliberated for a couple of hours about each candidate before casting their votes.
"It appeared to be a very difficult decision," Fadlallah said. "The members were very engaged in a very civil discussion. Everyone had an opportunity to speak if they wanted to address any issues."
Fadlallah added that the Arab American community is well represented in AAPAC and that residents can rely on the organization to make decisions on who voters should back.
"We represent a nice broad spectrum of the community," Fadlallah said. "No one person can speak on behalf of the whole community, so it's nice when you are sitting with a group of people who can offer different perspectives. The community has relied on AAPAC's endorsement in the past to help them make decisions if they aren't familiar with the races. It appeared that the candidates themselves respected AAPAC's efforts in their selection and they seemed to make that clear even before the interviews." Fadlallah concluded.
"We have been involved in the process of interviewing and selecting candidates in various local and national races for the last 19 years," said Endorsement Committee Chair Mariam Bazzi. "It is not always easy, especially when we have many members of our community in the race, but it is our job to make sure that we choose the right candidate for our endorsement. We base our decisions on the candidates qualifications and their ability to serve the best interests of this community and the public at large."
AAPAC is still in the process of interviewing Third Circuit Court candidates and is expected to make an endorsement in that race in the coming weeks as well.
In the days leading up to the primary, the organization will issue its slate to voters through mailers. The slate will also be distributed to voters at polling locations.