DEARBORN — With a historic election on the horizon, The Arab American News has announced its endorsements for mayor, City Council and Charter Revision Commission.
The Arab American News made the decision of endorsing State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud for mayor and incumbent Mike Sareini, Mustapha Hammoud, Khodr Farhat, Samra’a Luqman, Lola Elzein, Kamal Alsawafy and Saeid Alawathi for the seven City Council seats up for grabs.
To form the nine-member Charter Revision Commission, The Arab American News endorsed Hassan F. Abdallah, Mansour Sharha, Hussein Hachem, Richard AlAziz, Kimberly Ismail, Jamil Khuja, Sharon Dulmage, Sam Hamade and Albert Abbas.
Profiles on each candidate can be found on The Arab American News website.
FOR DEARBORN MAYOR
Given the importance of the Dearborn mayoral race this year, The Arab American News jointly with the Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC) conducted in-person one-hour interviews with the candidates, Hammoud and Gary Woronchak, in the offices of The Arab American News. The background, character and history of both of these candidates are well known to the Arab American community: Woronchak has been in public life and a friend of the community for many years, and Hammoud has also been an active member of AAPAC and a state representative for a five years. That is why our separate interviews with each of them focused on what they would do if elected and how prepared they are to tackle the transition and execute their respective agendas. After hearing from both candidates, The Arab American News and AAPAC were very impressed by Hammoud’s plan and his preparedness to hit the ground running if elected on November 2. That is why we decided to endorse him. Here are highlights of what transpired during the hour-long interview with Abdullah Hammoud on October 2:
Hammoud’s campaign team has already been consulting with experts in administrative transitions at the state and national levels and they already have a plan in place to put together a transition team that is separate from the campaign and the political side of their operation. The transition team will also include an advisory body composed of Dearborn community members who will help in finding and ultimately hiring suitable candidates for key appointments. The initial vetting of such candidates will be conducted by a professional team based solely on qualifications, experience and ability to serve Dearborn and its residents. Hammoud will ensure that his management team reflects the diversity of Dearborn residents and their values.
Hammoud believes that the most urgent issue to tackle on day one will be how to address the next heavy rain and prevent floods in the city and its homes. He also believes that equally as important is the budget and its potential shortfalls: If the hold harmless millage currently on the ballot passes, the new administration will have only three years to find other ways to balance the budget. If it fails, they will have to deal with a significant budget shortfall right away. Hammoud also wants to work on rebuilding trust between the city and all of its residents and develop readiness plans to tackle any future emergencies such as a pandemic or other safety or health-related emergencies.
Hammoud vowed to spare no efforts to keep young people from leaving Dearborn and to make the city much more business-friendly.
Hammoud also wants to shift the way city government works by increasing reliance on modern technology and taking City Hall to each neighborhood in all four corners of the city. He will look for best practices in cities similar in size and facing similar issues. He stated “our city government has been adrift… we need a mayor who will be visible in each neighborhood to feel its concerns, and who will make people feel good about city government again.”
Hammoud acknowledged that Dearborn property taxes are high and listed many reasons for that, including the CSO project and school funding. He stated that the assessment process needs to follow the law and be transparent and provide a clear process for appeal.
Hammoud, a 31-year-old Dearborn native, was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 2017 and became the first Arab and Muslim American to represent the 15th District. Hammoud was recently married.
FOR DEARBORN CITY COUNCIL
Sareini is a married father of five and a lifelong Dearborn resident who has served on the City Council for the last seven years.
His mother, Suzanne Sareini, held the seat for 24 years before he decided to run the same year she announced she would not be seeking re-election.
“This is a pivotal time in our city,” he said in an interview with The Arab American News earlier this year. “A new mayor will be elected this year, which will result in key changes to the administration. We have the opportunity to shape the direction of our city’s future. Now, more than ever, Dearborn needs leaders who will ask the tough questions and make decisions in the best interest of the city and its residents. I believe my dedicated leadership, experience and vision will be very valuable in shaping the city’s direction for the future.”
Having grown up in Dearborn and attended Dearborn Public Schools, Henry Ford College and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Mustapha Hammoud said that he owed it to Dearborn to serve on the City Council and that he looks forward to giving back to the community and moving Dearborn forward.
“Taxes are high and increasing the overall size of the tax base will be essential to allowing a reduction in overall tax rate while maintaining services,” he said. “We need to expand available housing options and attract new commercial opportunities to the city. In the past, Dearborn has taken a confrontational approach with new business owners, forcing them to move elsewhere. I will fight on the City Council for simpler ordinances and additional flexibility for development.”
Farhat, who ran for a position on the Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education in 2020 and lost by only 13 votes, said that he is running to show representation for everybody in the city, regardless of their circumstances.
“I have many goals in mind such as (the) fight for environmental justice, fight to lower property taxes, reestablish the Commission on Disability Concerns to better serve our disabled residents in the city, fight for complete transparency, bridge the gap with the public, ensure that our residents are being taken care of, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, etc.,” he said. “I am an advocate, a public speaker and activist in Dearborn and Southeast Michigan. I thrive day in and day out to fight for equity, equality and accessibility.”
Luqman, a Southend resident who is a popular activist throughout the community, was vocal at City Council meetings surrounding the flooding that happened in late June.
“Before even getting to Council, I have been bringing hundreds of trees and rain gardens to the city, utilizing nonprofits and corporate money, zero taxpayer dollars,” she said. “I plan on continuing the work I’ve been doing and am hoping to expand on it by obtaining more external funding sources to build on our green infrastructure. As a Council member, I would limit the reduction of greenspace and am proposing a permeable surfaces ordinance. I would call for an investigation on what went wrong in the prior floods. I would utilize grants and subsidies to advance the city and am currently proposing a plan for a retention basin as well as a solar field to propel our city forward.”
Known as “The Title Lady”, Elzein established Venture Title Agency in 2014 in the heart of Dearborn.
“High property taxes have been driving away so many of our investors and young families looking to reside within our city,” she said. “On Council, I will work on lowering our millage rate by reducing wasteful spending while maintaining and improving the level of city services, work with the city assessor to ensure that residential and commercial properties are assessed fairly and equitably to encourage new housing developments to ensure that young families and professionals are able to afford a home in Dearborn. Most importantly, growing Dearborn’s small and commercial businesses are crucial to offer relief and offset property taxes for homeowners.”
Alsawafy, a member of the Michigan Army National Guard, said his experience makes him perfect for City Council.
“What makes me a qualified and unique candidate for Dearborn City Council is my diversified and relevant experience,” he said. “Dearborn is a great place to call home, but we are facing so many challenges. My experience as the business development manager for Wayne County, my previous experiences as a business owner and my experience as a military officer provide me with the necessary skill sets to become an effective City Council member.”
A Yemeni immigrant and father of five daughters, Alawathi currently works with ACCESS and is looking to continue his service to the community.
“My campaign is about serving the Dearborn community,” he said. “Serving others has been a lifelong passion for me and I am looking forward to taking this passion to the City Council. I want to help my community solve issues within our city, as I have served my community for a very long time in different capacities, such as being a precinct delegate for six years, traffic commissioner for eight years and several nonprofit committees, including leadership, political and faith-based organizations, and now the time has come for me to serve them and represent them as a City Council member.”
FOR DEARBORN CHARTER REVISION COMMISSION
Abdallah, a Fordson High School alumnus, was one of the first to announce his candidacy for the Charter Revision Commission.
“First and foremost, it’s imperative the provisions of the Charter are legally sound and compliant with applicable laws,” he said. “And while the entire charter is equally important and vital to me, the matters that rise to the top of my priority list are creating a framework of city government that champions our diversity, removing barriers that hinder civic engagement, ensuring that we have a system of checks and balances both for all levels of government and ensuring public safety for our residents and families throughout all neighborhoods. This is a historic time in our city and I am humbled by the opportunity to contribute my skills to ensuring our charter is a robust document that makes Dearborn a city people are proud to call home, an attraction for business development and a place for families to grow in.”
Currently a member of the Library Commission, Sharha is also a private school board member and an executive at a local non-profit organization.
“I decided to run to be part of this historical change and to build a legacy for years to come,” he said. “As a community servant and advocate, I have experienced and lived the issues that our residents are facing. I ran for the city Charter Commission to ensure our city has a charter that can be modeled for our neighboring cities. A charter that is innovative, balanced, addresses the safety and health of our residents and represents our principles and values. As a father of four children, I want our city to reflect our diversity and to apply fairness in all services across the city. I have served on local boards, community and educational strategic committees and have the necessary experience to work effectively with others, to collaborate and implement resolutions.”
As a well known community advocate, Hachem said he is looking for a seat to represent all Dearborn residents.
“Through my work in education and communication, I was able to see firsthand the impact that our city government has on our children, our families, our seniors, our first responders and our city as a whole,” he said. “And on August 3, when the people of this city demanded change at the polls in groundbreaking numbers to amend the charter, it was a call to service that I was compelled to answer. This position belongs to the people, all people, not a select group of people, not a party or special interest group and I am running to ensure that the people’s voices in this process are amplified and represented.”
As an attorney, AlAziz is looking to bring his professional skill set to the table on the Charter Revision Commission.
“My hope is that I can bring my knowledge and skills to the table to assist with revising the Dearborn Charter to be a document that incorporates better government transparency and a living document that will stand the test of time to benefit the residents of Dearborn,” he said. “As a former assistant corporation counsel for Wayne County, and specifically handling the legal affairs for the Wayne County Department of Public Service, I have unique knowledge of the inner workings of government and how to effectively draft language that will capture the intent of the commission. I want to help provide a better, more transparent, fair government for the people of Dearborn through the revision of the charter.”
Having founded Speak, Hope, Walk for Hunger, Ismail also worked in the Dearborn Public Schools for more than 15 years.
“I want to ensure that we have safeguards to protect the misuse of authority and promote civic engagement as much as I can,” she said. “It is important to me that we also take residents’ input into account when making decisions on the commission. Community is important to me, so it’s important that we are all involved in the charter commission. Dearborn residents can trust that I will make the tough decisions with their best interests at heart. My record of public service speaks for itself; I will always put Dearborn first. I take pride in our city and the work that I have done; and I look forward to the work that I will continue to do, no matter the outcome this election cycle.”
An attorney since 2008, Khuja said his experience could help ensure the charter is legally sound.
“I am passionate about empowering residents and want the new charter to facilitate fair representation for everyone so that we can all be confident in our city government,” he said. “I would like to see increased transparency in city government. City officials should make it easier for residents to see what the government is doing on their behalf. We must have checks and balances and an informed citizenry would serve as a check on our government. I hope to work with other commissioners to improve our city charter and make revisions that will gain the approval of voters at the ballot box.”
A former School Board member, Dulmage has lived in Dearborn since 1963.
“I want to continue to make a difference and serve our community; and what is decided now will impact our city for years to come,” she said. “The major issue that has become apparent in the past few years is how to manage a situation where an elected person is unable to continue serving in the position and is unable to fully discharge the responsibilities of the position. There are many questions and things to consider such as who determines incompetence? What is the succession process to fill the position and who and what define ‘discharging the responsibilities?’”
Abbas ran for Dearborn School Board last year and has created and funded programs to better assist future leaders, including “Field Goals for Education.”
“Dearborn’s mode of operation is antiquated and requires updating,” he said. “Overseeing a city that leverages the historical aspects while maintaining a sustainable and modernized settling for attracting new families and retaining our youth is a balance which we must heed. Our priorities should entail addressing the frail infrastructure on the east and south ends of the city, evaluating a sustainable tax structure and establishing an environmentally friendly ecosystem. My vision is expansive as it tackles the intricacies of the problems we face as a community and includes a plan to explore all options guaranteeing a transparent, accountable and sustainable city government.”
Hamade, a self-proclaimed family man, is an experienced entrepreneur, owner of multiple businesses and a land developer.
During the pandemic, he served on the Dearborn Public Schools parents advisory board for kids returning to school and on the school’s athletics parents committee for assessing safety protocols and guidelines.
“I would bring this strong knowledge to the Charter Commission,” he said. “Our residents are diverse and Dearborn should remain a host to Polish, Italian, Lebanese, Yemeni, Iraqi and other communities. It is this diversity that makes Dearborn great, unique, and worth fighting for.”