Dearborn voters will elect a new mayor on Tuesday. The winner will replace Mayor Jack O’Reilly, who decided not to seek reelection. The two candidates running for the job will have to address citizen concerns such as policing and flooding.
Gary Woronchak met with Dearborn residents last week at Ten Eyck Park near the Southfield Freeway and Outer Drive in Dearborn.
“We’re gonna be at a few different parks throughout the city in the next week just to do some retail-style politics,” says Woronchak as puts up signs before a recent campaign event.
Woronchak was raised in Dearborn and has worked in various roles in the city. He has served as a Wayne County commissioner, managing editor of The Daily Tribune, and editor of Dearborn Press and Guide. He has also represented Dearborn in the State House, just like his opponent Abdullah Hammoud.
“I spent most of my life in a position of responsibility or leadership in Dearborn,” he says.
“I think this is such an important transition to Dearborn … we’ve seen pretty much the same thing for the last 40 years, [Jack] O’Reilly, [Michael] Guido. I think we’re looking for a mayor that can really build those bridges better between the different communities in Dearborn that has that reach.” –William Ali, Dearborn
Woronchak says having a career in journalism and politics prepared him for public service.
One of the issues he hopes to address if he is elected mayor is the flooding in Dearborn.
“Everybody in Dearborn even those who didn’t flood hold their breath and hope for the best, and we can’t just be wishing and hoping that we’re not going to get another flood. We have to find out what kind of action we need to take,” says Woronchak.
Woronchak says relying on an independent review initiated by city hall and installing Smart Sewer systems with sensors may mitigate the problem in the future.
He says it’s important to have a set of fresh eyes in office to look at these concerns, “who’s going to look very carefully at all the services we deliver, and how we deliver them and how we pay for them and we’re going to make certain that there’s no disparity between the level of service that the east and west sides get.”
Some of those services include policing.
Policing in Dearborn
Alexandria Hughes is part of Accountability for Dearborn, a grassroots organization that speaks to residents about policing and racism in Dearborn. The group came together last spring in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The issues we really focused on pertain to accountability, current issues that affect residents,” she says, such as “… environmental racism that impact the south and the east side of Dearborn where the majority people of color there are Arab people majority and they are highly impacted by that,” says Hughes.
Hughes says police are often not equipped to deal with mental health or domestic violence.
She says there are alternatives for calling the police.
“There’s probably too many cops in the neighborhood, and that we need to focus more on building community with each other, to learn how to stop problems because when the police is called, often it’s called because of just claiming that Black people are doing something wrong,” says Hughes.
The group is looking for elected officials to support civilian oversight of the police.
Hughes says regardless of who wins the mayor’s race there will be a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to accountability.
Related: View WDET’s candidate guides for Dearborn Mayor and City Council
“Breaking Down Barriers”
Mayoral candidate State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud says he wants to see accountability and transparency in government too.
“The city of Dearborn spends more on public safety than just about any other community in the whole area yet, our outcomes don’t really demonstrate that we have to have a strategic public safety model that works better for residents and first responders,” he says.
Hammoud says Dearborn officials need to investigate how police are doing their jobs and provide additional mental health resources for residents and first responders. He supports shifting resources from enforcing nonmoving traffic violations to serious violations such as reckless driving and speeding. According to his campaign, in Dearborn, from 2010-2019, 60%+ of nonmoving traffic citations were issued to Black drivers.
Hammoud represents the 15th District in the Michigan House of Representatives covering Dearborn. He is an epidemiologist by training and a graduate of the Ross School of Business.
He says if elected he’ll create a community transition team encompassing diverse voices to provide services in multiple languages, such as Arabic.
During the primary, Hammoud garnered praise from supporters and opponents alike for his response to the flooding in Dearborn. He mobilized volunteers throughout the city to deal with the disaster.
He says government officials should be able to meet people where they are and assist them during a crisis or in everyday matters.
“[To] transform this idea of what government should be ready to do for its residents, and so we’re excited to bring a community relations model, and hopefully you know and build that out at the city of Dearborn, one where you have community liaisons in each corner of the city that you can lean on when something is happening,” says Hammoud.
If elected, Hammoud would become Dearborn’s first Arab American Muslim mayor.
He says residents should vote for the best candidate, “based on the direction in which they lead, regardless of the direction in which they pray.”
“I think it’s breaking down barriers so that name like Abdullah is viewed as American than any other, so it’s not that you’re the first, you’re no longer the last,” says Hammoud.
“An Important Transition”
William Ali is a youth leader who has worked in the community for the past 35 years. He was born in the south end of Dearborn to a Yemeni father and white mother.
“My father came here originally from Yemen, a little over 70 years ago. And my mom was originally from here. She’s non-Arab, God bless her soul. She’s white and she was born in the south. Her family’s been here a long, long time,” he says.
Ali says he wants to see better representation in the city and is looking forward to someone new in office.
“I think this is such an important transition to Dearborn … we’ve seen pretty much the same thing for the last 40 years, [Jack] O’Reilly, [Michael] Guido. I think we’re looking for a mayor that can really build those bridges better between the different communities in Dearborn that has that reach.”
Ali says he’s hopeful, regardless of who wins.
“I think we got two really qualified candidates. I just hope that after this is over, the city can get closer and come together and work together for the betterment of all Dearborn,” he says.
Dearborn residents head to the polls to elect a new mayor on Tuesday.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify Abdullah Hammoud’s position on enforcing traffic violations.
Listen: As voters head to the polls, Dearborn mayoral vote is “an important transition” for the city.