Residents of Hamtramck will choose between the current mayor, who has served the past 16 years, and a challenger who says the face of Hamtramck needs to change.
The 2-square-mile city is the most diverse and most densely populated in the state. Mayor Karen Majewski says building bridges across so many constituencies is one of the biggest challenges for Hamtramck’s top leader.
“The challenge is the beauty of it,” Majewski says. “The challenge is the excitement and the thing that energizes you about it and it makes it so interesting and so satisfying.”
“It’s no secret that I didn’t intend to run this time. But I didn’t see a candidate coming up that I was comfortable would represent everyone in the community. And that really concerned me.” –Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski
But the biggest challenge, Majewski says, is money.
She says the city was hit hard by this summer’s flooding and that plans to revamp its sewers, sidewalks and alleys are already in the works. But that will take time — and a lot of money.
Infrastructure changes are just one example of the unfinished business Majewski says she hopes to handle in the coming term. Another is figuring out how to fund pensions for the police and fire departments. She supported a millage to do that but voters rejected it in August.
Related: See candidates guides for Hamtramck Mayor and City Council.
Still she says those issues aren’t why she’s running for a fifth term.
“It’s no secret that I didn’t intend to run this time,” Majewski says. “But I didn’t see a candidate coming up that I was comfortable would represent everyone in the community. And that really concerned me.”
One of the constituencies Majewski fears a new mayor may neglect is the LGBTQ community. In June, Majewski voted to fly the Pride flag across from city hall to celebrate Pride month — breaking a tie amongst City Council members.
A Potentially Historic Vote
When asked how he might have voted, her opponent, Amer Ghalib, says he wouldn’t “take sides.” He says he would limit discussion of controversial issues and work to bring people together.
“I noticed that people feel disconnected from the local government,” Ghalib says. “They feel misrepresented, ignored. And so I am running to bring fair and equal representation.”
“I noticed that people feel disconnected from the local government. They feel misrepresented, ignored. And so I am running to bring fair and equal representation.” –Hamtramck mayoral candidate Amer Ghalib
Ghalib says he’s concerned about infrastructure, too, especially recent reports of high lead levels in the city’s water.
Ghalib was the top vote-getter in the August primaries. He works in health care, moved to Hamtramck from Yemen 22 years ago and describes himself as a social activist. If he wins, it will be a change in a city that has only had Polish mayors for almost a century. Fifty years ago, the population was 70% Polish. Today it’s down to 7%.
“I am not running as a Muslim or as Yemeni,” Ghalib says. “I’m running as a Hamtramck resident. But, yes — maybe my background will bring a change and it will be historic because this is the first time and there would be an immigrant Muslim Yemeni.”
Ghalib says Majewski’s determination to keep the seat reminds him of dictators around the world who promise that things will fall apart if they lose power.
But the mayor’s office is not where the power lies in Hamtramck. The City Council controls most things. Voters will choose between 6 candidates to fill 3 spots on the council as well.
They will also have the chance to decide if council members and the mayor will be limited to three terms in office going forward.