Dearborn mayor’s race to position first new leader in 14 years in November
Cherborn – Dearborn voters went to the polls on Tuesday to narrow the list of non-incumbents seeking to become the city’s seventh mayor.
Seven candidates were in the running to replace Mayor John “Jack” O’Reilly Jr., who has led Wayne County’s largest community outside of Detroit for more than 14 years.
The first two who receive the most votes qualify for the general election on November 2.
Early results also showed steps to expand a library stock and revise the city charter with over 60% of voters saying yes to each.
It could be a historic competition.
If elected, three – city council chairwoman Susan Dabaja, state representative Abdullah Hammoud and school board official Hussein Berry – would become the first Arab-American to hold the post.
Dabaja or Kalette Shari Willis, an African-American veteran, would be the first woman.
Former lawmaker Gary Woronchak is also in contention; Jim Parrelly, a financial planner; and former chairman of the board Tom Tafelski.
Hammoud leads the first results with nearly 50% of the votes. Dabaja followed at 15.6% and Tafelski was third with 13.5%.
Some in the community see the chance to make history; others said they wanted to weigh and register complaints about the city’s response to recent devastating floods and issues such as taxation.
“There is a lot of excitement in the community. Not just the excitement, but there is a lot of backlash,” said Majed Moughni, a lawyer and activist from Dearborn who runs a Facebook page for residents. “We hope there will be a change – at least the positive change we want.”
Robert Murillo, 46, a resident for over 20 years, voted for the change.
“I believe in Dearborn that it is time for a change, especially after recent times have opened our eyes to the poor infrastructure in Dearborn,” he said. “We collectively believe in Dearborn that there are things that need to be worked out and that we are on the back burner.… Let’s just say that those in place let us down. We felt it was time for a change at all times. levels. “
The race was costly, county finance records show.
Hammoud led the campaign contributions until last month, according to the documents submitted.
The Dearborn native raised over $ 267,000 during the reporting period. Dabaja was second after raising over $ 162,000, followed by Berry, who declared over $ 138,000 in contributions.
The November winner would lead nearly 94,000 residents, more than 770 full-time and 1,700 part-time employees, with a budget proposed to exceed $ 135 million in the next fiscal year.
They are also rising to the helm of the politically and culturally important locality with one of the highest concentrations of Arab Americans in the country as the city recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and historic flooding this summer. Critics and suitors say these issues have underscored the need for a change in the city’s leadership.
“We believe that our city urgently needs a unifying, comprehensive and objective plan that can effectively tackle complex issues such as fair, equitable and legal taxation, adequate representation, quality municipal services and affordable, reinvigorated economic development, modernized, streamlined recreation and user-friendly municipal technology, welcoming and knowledgeable municipal services and, of course, much needed infrastructure improvements, ”said Mazen Elatrache, vice-chairman of the board of administration of the Dearborn Community Council, a group of grassroots residents.
O’Reilly, whose father was mayor from 1978 to 1986, had retained his seat since his first election in February 2007, two months after the death of his predecessor Michael Guido, the city’s youngest mayor.
Last month, following criticism from residents and others that he had not been visible during the flooding, O’Reilly announced that health concerns had resulted in fewer public appearances.
The mayor praised his administration’s response to record rainfall that flooded basements and closed some businesses. He highlighted the city’s immediate declaration of emergency, the deployment of resources and personnel, food gifts and other forms of assistance.
However, dozens of residents have protested what they say is the administration’s “repeated failure” to protect homes, businesses and streets from flooding.
Among the critics was Woronchak, who, after seeing pilings and havoc in the days following the flooding, called for an investigation into whether the problems were “the result of too much rain or whether they were in any way. somehow preventable “.
The former state official recently told the Detroit News, “The pandemic and recent flooding is a reminder that the most pressing problem changes with the moment, and strong and experienced leadership is needed to deal with every problem in the world. as it arises. “
Dabaja, who served as board chair for more than seven years, said her experience would help start tackling small business revitalization, review city spending, and improve efficiency and transparency in government. government.
She called for an investigation into the city’s sewage system in response to flooding in recent weeks. Dabaja also supports grants to small businesses, the prevention of evictions and the vaccination of residents, as well as the reassessment of funding levels for municipal services.
Hammoud, who is completing his third term at the State House representing the 15th district, won praise after he and volunteers helped residents clean up their flooded homes.
The 31-year-old has said he will prioritize lowering property taxes, reckless driving and restoring the city’s economic recovery.
Tafelski, who served on the Planning Commission, was chairman of the board from 2007 to 2013 and lost the mayoral race in 2017 to O’Reilly, said he was focusing on prioritizing investments in neighborhoods , business development and public safety.
Parrelly, 62, was hoping to bring innovation and new ideas to town hall after spending 40 years in finance.
Willis, 32, has advocated for clean energy and net zero emissions in the city, as well as lower property taxes and investment in city infrastructure.
Berry, who has worked in regional real estate for over 25 years and is a past chairman of the Dearborn School Board and Henry Ford College Board of Trustees, wants to rebuild the Dearborn business district by appointing a liaison officer to simplify approvals and work with officials. to diversify the options.
Tuesday’s race also narrows the field of city council candidates slightly.
There are 14 new faces, many in the minority, vying with four current members for seven seats on the panel, which is predominantly Arab-American.
“The most important change we need is that we elect capable and competent public servants who will work hard to earn our trust and always act in our best interests,” Elatrache said. “The most critical mistake we can make in this historic election is to be arbitrary and divided when making decisions about the election of our officials.”
Dearborn voters also had to decide whether to revise the city charter and expand a library stock.
The charter, which sets the framework for municipal government, came into effect on January 1, 2008. It was last amended and ratified in 2007, and contains a provision that puts the review ahead of voters.
If voters choose to revise it, a Charter commission will be established and nine members will be elected in the general election on November 2.
If an update request was unsuccessful, the current charter would remain unchanged, while some parts can still be changed if amendments are put to a vote through city council or petitions from citizens, government officials. administration.
The Thousand Libraries approval would renew the 1-thousandth tax rate for six years. It was approved by voters in 2011. The city council voted on May 11 to place the issue of renewal of the mileage on the primary ballot.
“Each year, the mileage generates about $ 3.7 million, or nearly 60%, of the library’s operating budget,” city officials said last month. “If the renewal is rejected by voters, the library’s facilities, services, materials and programming would be reduced. An additional loss of annual state funding of at least $ 700,000 would also result. “
The first results showed that the two measures were adopted with more than 60% of yes votes for each.
Editor-in-chief Sarah Rahal contributed.