The cycle repeats itself. Last year, hundreds of Muslim Americans made history as the firsts in their respected towns and states. This year more join with historic wins as elected officials. Michigan specifically makes history with not one but three firsts for the Muslim community. Three Michigan towns—Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, and Hamtramck—elected their first Muslim mayors Tuesday.
While both Dearborn and Dearborn Heights have a high Muslim population, neither town has seen a Muslim mayor before. Tuesday’s results now reflect the towns’ demographics and show the reality of a change in demographics in Hamtramck as well.
“While the night marks the first of many, we never ran to be the first, we ran to be the best,” Hammoud said during his victory speechacknowledging his historic win but noting his candidacy was not just about diversity.
Hammoud defeated Gary Woronchak, a former state representative and former Wayne County commissioner, with 54.6% of the vote, the Detroit Free Press reported. The 31-year-old succeeds John “Jack” O’Reilly Jr., mayor since 2007, whose administration faced criticism over its handling of flooding last summer.
When Hammoud takes office early next year, the House lawmaker will become the first Muslim and the first person of color to lead the city’s 110,000 residents as their seventh mayor.
Hammoud’s win is historic not only because of his identity, and the fact that it reflects the demographic of the community he will be representing, but also in light of the town’s history of racism.
According to Al-Jazeera, Dearborn’s longest-serving mayor, Orville Hubbard, was known nationally for his racism against minority groups. While the town is now heavily Arab populated and houses one of the largest Arab American communities in the nation, the census does not reflect this because Arab Americans are classified as white.
“We finally have Arab Americans speaking for themselves, being elected to office, representing their communities, gaining recognition for this population, gaining a voice for them,” Sally Howell said, director of the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
“To the young girls and boys who have ever been ridiculed for their faith or ethnicity. To those of you who were ever made to feel that their names were unwelcome and to our parents and to our elders and to others who are humiliated for their broken English and yet still persistent, today is proof that you are as American as anyone else, and there is a new era in Dearborn,” Hammoud said during his victory speech.
In Dearborn Heights, Mayor Bill Bazzi was elected to continue to serve as mayor.
While already known as the town’s first Muslim mayor, on Tuesday he became the town’s first elected Muslim mayor after beating Council Chair Denise Malinowski Maxwell. A Marine Corps veteran and immigrant from Lebanon, as the town’s mayor, he is not only the first Muslim but the first Arab American to serve.
According to the Detroit Free Press, about one-third of Dearborn Heights is Arab American, making Bazzi’s historic win an accurate representation of the community.
During his campaign, Bazzi frequently clashed with Malinowski-Maxwell—who once accused Bazzi of faking his 21 years of service with the Marines. But despite the hate he received and the conflicts with other politicians, Bazzi succeed in his reelection and made history once again.
When asked about his historic win, he acknowledged it but shared similar sentiments with other “firsts,” who noted it was not about them.
“It feels great,” he said. “But I don’t look at any of this as making history. I’m looking at it as I’m serving the people and serving Dearborn Heights. I’m here for the residents and I have an open-door policy always to residents, staff, everyone. My goal and mission is for the residents and for the city of Dearborn Heights.”
In a message to students who supposed him and even countered at the polls, Bazzi not only thanked them but noted he was proud.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “If you work hard and do the right thing and stay focused, you can achieve anything, you just need a dream and a passion. If I can do everything in my life that I’ve done, including this, then anyone can. I am grateful when I see youth involved in civic duties and serving the community, as it serves as an inspiration to even younger generations and comes full circle. I’m proud of them and there’s a good process of caring about each other and about our community. This really brings us all together and shows that we are and have one strong community.”
In Hamtramck, Amer Ghalib defeated Mayor Karen Majewski to become not only the city’s first Muslim mayor, but the city’s first non-Polish mayor in a century.
According to the Detroit Metro Times, Ghalib, a health care worker and immigrant from Yemen, defeated opponent Majewski by a landslide.
Hamtramck has historically, for the last 100 years, always had a mayor of Polish descent. While it used to be dominantly Polish, Polish-Americans today make up less than 7% of the city, according to census reports.
As mayor, Galib will be the first Arab American and the first Muslim to serve, in a town that has the highest percentage of immigrants among cities in metro Detroit. Approximately half of the city’s population identifies as Muslim.
Advocacy groups, including the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), acknowledged the historic wins in Michigan. “We congratulate Mr. Hammoud and Mr. Ghalib on their historic victories in Dearborn and Hamtramck and for becoming the first Muslims to hold mayoral office in those cities,” CAIR-Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid said in a press release. “Their victories are signs of not only the increased political engagement of Muslims in our region but also the comfort fellow Michiganians of other faiths have in supporting Muslim candidates.”
While he was campaigning, many criticized Ghalib for opposing flying an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the city and for his disapproved of marijuana dispensaries. But Ghalib told the Detroit Free Press that he would not impose his beliefs on others.
“People think because of my background and my religious beliefs that I will be anti-LGBT or something, but we are in America,” Ghalib said. “The same Constitution that allowed me to practice my religion here, to pray the way I want, it gives others the same freedom to practice their beliefs and express their values the way they want.”
Congratulations to Michigan’s three firsts— here’s to more to come!