This Tuesday, Hamtramck voters will narrow the list of mayoral candidates from four to two.
Karen Majewski, the current mayor of Hamtramck, is running for a fifth term after 16 years in office.
Majewski says while no one person can embody the diversity of the state’s most ethnically diverse city, she’s worked hard to build relationships and bridges across communities. As examples of that commitment, she points to City Hall signage in English, Bangla and Arabic and that city publications are printed in multiple languages.
“We’re continually trying to diversify our workforce,” Majewski says, ”as well as providing trainings in how to deal with different folks from different backgrounds.”
“It’s a signal to everybody that we have to fix this problem together. And Hamtramck can do its part as our budget allows … [but] the solution to the problem has to be regionwide and probably nationwide.” —Karen Majewski, Hamtramck mayor on infrastructure updates in the wake of this summer’s floods
Majewski has a background as a scholar of ethnicity and immigration. She says the cultures, languages and religions that fill the 2 square miles of Hamtramck make the city a global leader in discussions of how true diversity does and can work in real life, “warts and all.”
She says the issues during this election are the same ones the city has been pushing through for a while: finances and infrastructure. Like many communities, Hamtramck has been hit hard by recent floods.
Majewski says the city has been working on sewer grid updates to increase the system’s capacity incrementally over time. But, she says, this is not a problem the small city can fix alone.
“It’s a signal to everybody that we have to fix this problem together,” Majewski says. “And Hamtramck can do its part as our budget allows, and as our plan has laid out for us, but it’s not going to solve the larger problem. And just like other cities, the system, the solution to the problem has to be regionwide and probably nationwide.”
Majewski says the city’s human infrastructure — its community organizations, economic infrastructure and small businesses — must also be priorities.
But one challenger says the current administration needs to support small minority-owned businesses better.
Community activist Asm Rahman — also known as Kamal Rahman — says not too long ago Hamtramck, like Detroit, saw residents and businesses flee the city.
“The immigrant community … transformed the dying business district into the sprawling vibrant business district as we see today — and it’s still growing.” —Asm Rahman, Hamtramck mayoral candidate
“Now the immigrant community came,” Rahman says, “and then literally transformed the dying business district into the sprawling vibrant business district as we see today — and it’s still growing.”
Rahman says those vibrant businesses have led to a population increase and a rise in property values. He says he would like to market the city’s diversity to attract more business, tourism and investments.
Rahman works as a fiscal manager for the City of Detroit with a departmental budget he says is larger than Hamtramck’s municipal budget. He says his expertise could help the city avoid a financial crisis like the ones that led to state oversight before.
“And people are concerned about it,” he says. “That city services may have to be cut or the city might be taken over by the state again. And this time, it could be more serious than the last two times that it was taken over.”
Rahman also criticizes Majewski for not opposing a 2020 ballot proposal that would have removed police and fire services from the city charter. That proposal was defeated.
Two other candidates are running for mayor but did not respond to requests for interviews or inclusion in WDET’s voter guide. Saad Almasmari is a member of the City Council. Physician Amer Ghalib is also on the ballot. The top two vote-getters will move on to the November election.
Hamtramck voters will also select candidates to fill three City Council seats and vote on a millage increase for police and firefighter retirement plans.
Listen: Karen Majewski and Asm Rahman discuss the top issues in Hamtramck.