Hussein Berry elected to Dearborn School Board, O’Donnell unseats Thomas
By Khalil AlHajal and Nick Meyer | Friday, 11.06.2009, 08:31 PM

Campaign volunteers are seen from inside a passing car outside McDonald Elementary School polling stations on Election Day. PHOTO: Nafeh AbuNab/American Elite Studios


DEARBORN — Tuesday's elections will result in some moderate shakeups in city councils and school boards of several municipalities.

Sekna Yehya, 39, enters her ballot at William Ford Elementary School in Dearborn.                           PHOTO: Nick Meyer/TAAN

"We're hoping for new blood. I'm hoping change happens," said voter Iman Khalil as she exited the polls at Salina School in Dearborn's south end.

Khalil said she voted for younger candidates like Ali Sayed, who ran for city council.

Sayed fell short of making the top seven and joining the council, despite being the top vote-getter in 19 precincts. But his mood was upbeat as he spoke to supporters at a packed Byblos Banquet Hall Tuesday night.

"I'm appreciative of what we accomplished," he said.

"We had 200 high school volunteers, kids knocking on doors to get the vote out... there's a movement going on in this town, and you can either join it or step away."

Sayed said he ran with the goal of fostering unity in the city.

"We are all part of the same community and if we don't unite today, we'll fall apart tomorrow."

A slightly higher turnout this year likely helped earn another Arab American candidate a spot on the Dearborn School Board, which currently has no members of Arab descent, despite the fact that Arab children make up more than half the student population.

Hussein Berry, a real estate agent and well known longtime PTA figure in the school district, took the second of two seats up for election on the board. Incumbent Pamela Adams was the top vote-getter. Berry will replace current board member Darrell Donelson, who did not run for another term.

Berry's supporters celebrated his projected victory at Byblos, where he thanked Sayed for his support during his campaign.

"I'm so proud of this community and how it all came together and much of the credit is due to Ali," Berry said. "He brought out the youth to vote and got them interested in the process. When you have a 12, 13 year old kid asking what city council does, what the school board does, that's a pretty important thing."

Hussein Berry, who was elected to the Dearborn School Board on Tuesday, addresses supporters at a post-election party at Byblos Banquet Hall on Tuesday as Ali Sayed looks on.              PHOTO: Tariq A. Wahad/TAAN

Berry said perseverance was the key to his landmark victory.

"My advice is, 'Don't give up.' Five or six years ago I took a beating when I ran," he said.

"But we brought so many people together with this campaign and we all won. It took every one of us to win."

Brian C. O'Donnell, who sought and gained Arab American endorsements and support before the election, was the only non-incumbent to win a spot on the seven-member city council, unseating current Councilman Doug Thomas.

Arab American council members George Darany, Robert Abraham and Suzanne Sareini were each re-elected. Sareini was the second highest vote-getter, which will make her the president pro tem in the upcoming term. Only Council President Thomas Tafelski garnered more votes.

Campaign volunteers stand outside McDonald Elementary School as a bus used to take voters to  the polls passes. PHOTO: Khalil AlHajal/TAAN

"I'm overwhelmed, elated, exhausted," Sareini said at a post-election party Tuesday. "This is the greatest feeling...

"It's a show of confidence. That the people out there have confidence in me, I'm grateful for that."

Sareini said that as a woman, an Arab and a Muslim, she's had to fight for every vote in every election since first making it onto the council 20 years ago.

"I have, in every election, had to work for every vote I got... They thought I was a sword-carrying Muslim. I got threatening phone calls," she said of her first campaign. "I think they've finally gotten used to me after all these years."

Voters fill out ballots at McDonald Elementary School on Tuesday. PHOTO: Khalil AlHajal/TAAN

She said she believes that had many voters not engaged in plunking, the tactic of voting for only one favored candidate or less than the full seven available choices in the council election, she may have become council president.

Many voters said they voted for only a single underdog candidate in an attempt to give fresher faces a boost.

But Sayed came in 12th place and David Bazzy, another council hopeful of Arab descent, came in eighth, behind incumbent Nancy Hubbard by 548 votes.

Hassane Oseili, a voter at McDonald Elementary School, said he voted for an entire slate of candidates endorsed by the Arab American Political Action Committee.

Campaign volunteers hold signs outside William Ford Elementary School in Dearborn during mayoral, city council and school board elections Tuesday. PHOTO: Nick Meyer/TAAN

"They've really been doing a very, very good job," said Oseili about AAPAC's endorsement and mobilization efforts. "They study all the candidates and they've been very fair and balanced. It's very, very good for the community."

He said efforts by Arab American activists and candidates to register and remind voters of the election by placing booths and campaigning at gathering places like the Islamic House of Wisdom, where he is a board member, helped achieve the above-average turnout.

Community organizer and AAPAC member Rashid Baydoun said he saw a different sort of voter this time out at McDonald, noting more decisiveness and a stronger youth presence.

"You see the people now and they've got their slates out and they're ready to go," he said.

Arab American political activists lighten the mood on election day with a Middle Eastern hand drum and some dancing as they campaign for candidates outside McDonald Elementary School.               PHOTO: Saireen Bazzi

"It's all about repetition. I've been out here many years and it's good to see the youth out here taking part, learning about civic engagement, and being equipped with all the tools they need."

Arab American candidates in Detroit, Hamtramck and Roseville fell short of wins in their municipalities. Abdul Algazali, of Hamtramck came the closest among them, falling to incumbent Mayor Karen Majewski by 123 votes.

Two Bangladeshi candidates, Kazi Miah and Mohammed Hassan, were elected to Hamtramck's six-member city council Tuesday, in what some view as a historic shift in political influence in that small, diverse city. Along with incumbent Shahab Ahmed, Bangladeshis make up half the council.

In Detroit, while Mayor Dave Bing managed to shake off challenger Tom Barrow, former TV news anchor Charles Pugh came out on top in the election for the nine-member city council, with 88,704 votes, followed by Gary Brown, Saunteel Jenkins, current Council President Ken Cockrel, incumbent Brenda Jones, Andre Spivey, James Tate, and incumbents Kwame Kenyatta and Jo Ann Watson.

Brown, Tate and Watson received endorsements from the Arab American Political Action Committee before the election, as did Rose Mary Robinson for the city’s Charter Commission, on which she won a seat.

Dearborn Heights City Councilman Tom Berry, who is Arab American, placed second in securing his re-election.

Support was strong for the Henry Ford Community College Millage Proposal in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights. Henry Ford President Gail Mee went out with volunteers to spread the word across Dearborn during the election. It seemed to have worked, as the measure passed by more than a 3-to-1 margin.

Baydoun believed that the university's efforts to reach out to the Arab community were rewarded much like they were with other candidates.

"Gail Mee has been great, she's really made an effort to connect with the community," he said.

View full Detroit-area election results here.

By Khalil AlHajal and Nick Meyer

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