Dearborn mayor cites health for fewer public appearances

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Dearborn Mayor John "Jack" O'Reilly Jr. on Friday responded to criticism he has not been in the public eye in recent months or during historic flooding in the city, citing health reasons.

"In keeping with my lifelong service to Dearborn residents and stakeholders, I want you to know I am managing a health issue that has impacted my ability to attend public engagements and make public comments as frequently as I had done over the past 31 years in office," he said in a statement.

"I continue to completely fulfill administrative responsibilities required in the Dearborn City Charter. I am working in the office every day and participating in high-level meetings regarding city operations."


Multiple residents criticized the mayor, who has led Dearborn for more than 14 years, during a protest last week over his administration's response to the flooding in late June that caused basement backups across Wayne County. At one point, a resident angrily demanded: "Where are you?" 

Another demonstration is planned Tuesday during a City Council meeting, according to the Dearborn Area Community Members Facebook page.

This week, users posted a message directed at O'Reilly.

"Is it time for the City Council to do their job and remove Dearborn’s absent Mayor?" the post read.

In his lengthy statement Friday, O'Reilly stressed the city is doing everything possible to help residents recover from the devastating storms of June 25-26, "even if you are not seeing me on news reports."

The mayor said he immediately declared a state of emergency on June 26 to expedite the response. O'Reilly noted a "massive deployment of city resources" as well as "empowered key city personnel with the most frontline expertise to carry out their cleanup operations in the most nimble and effective way.

"The result: an ongoing recovery effort that has been unbelievably successful," he said. "Flood-damaged materials were removed from piled up curbs of more than 12,000 homes in just 10 days."

Some, including lifelong resident Shayma Ghaleb, have not been satisfied with the city's response. 

Ghaleb said her family still is waiting for an inspector to examine their flood-damaged home. She wonders if garbage pickup can improve and whether O'Reilly's administration is working hard enough to ensure the city can handle enough catastrophic flood.

"Everybody that is in charge of the city — it’s like, where are you? What's going on?" she said.

Meanwhile, O'Reilly said he has been meeting with state and federal officials in hopes of having a presidential disaster declared, paving the way for federal relief funds.

Dearborn Mayor John O'Reilly Jr. (left) was on hand during the announcement of the SMART Flex, Metro Detroit's first on-demand transit service with Via, at the Dingell Transit Center in Dearborn on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

He added the "regular practice moving forward" will be for his department directors and others "to use their expertise to explain issues to the public and the media."

The mayor did not disclose more about his health.

"I am asking you to please respect my privacy regarding personal health matters," O'Reilly added. "It is still an honor and my privilege to carry on my family’s legacy of public service in this city and I want the residents of Dearborn to know that they will always be a priority in my life."

O'Reilly was elected mayor in early 2007, months after the death of his predecessor, Michael Guido, from cancer.

He was first elected to the City Council in 1989 and served as its president for more than a decade. His father, John B. O'Reilly Sr., was mayor from 1978-86.

Jack O'Reilly was last re-elected in 2017 but has chosen not to run again.

Seven candidates are seeking to replace him, Wayne County Clerk records show.

They are City Council President Susan Dabaja; State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn; Hussein Berry, who is on the Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education; Jim Parrelly, a financial planner; former Council President Tom Tafelski; Gary Woronchak, a former Wayne County Commissioner and ex-state representative; and Kalette Shari Willis, a military veteran. 

The primary election is on Aug. 3. The two candidates who receive the most votes will advance to the general election on Nov. 2.

Some residents question O'Reilly's ability to remain office before the election.

Ahmed Alrayashi, 35, who has lived on Dearborn’s east side his entire life, said  “I speak for our east side neighborhood when I say we haven’t heard from the mayor since before the pandemic.”

"I'm not sure what's going on," said Alrayashi, adding O'Reilly should retire. "We see the city is still functioning, things are moving, things are still happening. If he really is sick, I pray for him and hope he gets better."

Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.