Abdullah Hammoud, mayor-elect of Dearborn, Michigan

Dearborn's first Arab American mayor-elect: 'You need not change who you are' to run for public office

"You're seeing minority populations and residents begin to really get involved in the political process," says Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor-elect of Dearborn, Michigan. He spoke to The World's Marco Werman about the issues facing his constituents.

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For decades, Dearborn, Michigan, has attracted immigrants from the Middle East. Lebanese, Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis have all settled there. The city's large Arab American population has made it a center for Arabic language, food and culture.

Related: South Yemen's separatists speak through a Michigan mom

But Dearborn has never had a mayor with an Arab background. That changed last week when the city elected State Representative Abdullah Hammoud as its new mayor.

He's one of three Arab American Muslim mayors-elect of cities in metro-Detroit. The other two are Amer Ghalib in Hamtramck and Bill Bazzi in Dearborn Heights.    

RelatedWhy the popular trend of smoking hookah in Detroit has one doctor alarmed

Abdullah Hammoud spoke with The World's Marco Werman about his campaign and what he hopes to accomplish while in office.

Marco Werman: So, Dearborn has one of the largest Muslim populations in the US. Immigrants from the Arab world have been settling there for a long time, as I said. In 2021, that changes with you at the center of the story. I mean, why did it take so long?
Abdullah Hammoud: Dearborn is known for having longstanding mayors. And the last open mayors' election was actually some 35 years ago. And this time around, we ran a campaign when that opportunity presented itself that focused on the issues impacting working families in all four corners of the city.
Talk a bit about those conversations you were having during the campaign. I mean, what were you hearing from people?
One of the biggest concerns for residents was the flooding. This summer, we had a catastrophic flooding event that led to about 20,000 homes experiencing flooding to a level of severity. And so, it was top of people's minds that they were wondering, "When the next heavy rain sets in, am I going to have to put my livelihood at the curbside and wait for a dump truck to pick it up?" And so that's one of the most pressing concerns.
So, we're talking basic municipal concerns here. As a mayor of Arab background, Islamophobia and racism also have to be front and center for you, I'm guessing. How significant do you think it is for the city of Dearborn and its Arab population to have an Arab Muslim as their incoming mayor?
I think it demonstrates that representation matters, one. But I think secondly, and most importantly, in the city of Dearborn, I never ran to be the first Arab or Muslim. I ran to be the best. What we demonstrate here in Dearborn, in my hometown, is that people are willing to elect an individual based on the direction in which they lead, no matter the direction in which they pray. And that a name like Abdullah Hussein Hammoud is as American as any other, and you need not change it. You need not change who you are or shy away from your faith or ethnicity. That you can still run for public office and try to give back to the community that gave you everything.
So, Mayor-elect Hammoud, you're one of three first Arab American Muslim mayors-elect in the Detroit metro area. What is the takeaway here?
You're seeing minority populations and residents begin to really get involved in the political process. We saw a surge and the voter turnout among the Arab American residents, among Muslim American residents in the city of Dearborn. We saw a dramatic increase in turnout among youth. And I think if you run a successful campaign that localizes the issues, we have a strong ground game, you're going to lead a successful campaign.
Your campaign slogan was "Together we can, and together we will bring change." Can you map that out? What is the change you're trying to bring?
The changes we're speaking of are, essentially, how do you improve the quality of life for residents all throughout the city? How do we address our flooding issues and address our crumbling infrastructure? How do we address our speeding and reckless driving issues to make it safe for our children and our our families to enjoy a summer night? You know, how do we address the air quality issues and the part of Dearborn where asthma rates are three to four times greater than the average in the state of Michigan? Those are the changes that we want to make. It will take time, but it will take a team, more importantly.
Mayor-elect Hamoud, with such a large Arab immigrant community, you're also in a position to weigh in on foreign affairs, especially with regard to US policy in the Middle East. Do you see a role for yourself in that regard?
Maybe others would want to impose that role onto me. I'm a Dearbornite at heart and my focus is going to be on the issues impacting residents.
But surely as someone with an Arab background, you at least have the capacity to kind of reach out to those people who have come from the Middle East.
Oh, of course. We actually want to launch a community relations department that works with meeting people where they are to ensure that we're providing them whatever it might be to assist them in their day-to-day endeavors.
So, what is your biggest hope once you get into City Hall?
That we're actually able to enact several of these policies that we put out along the campaign trail.  That we actually improve the quality of life and we're able to measure it on what we have done differently and that when we walk away from that office, we left it better than we first received it.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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