Ghalib makes history in Hamtramck, becomes city's first Muslim mayor

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Amer Ghalib unseated longtime Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski to become the city's first Arab American and Muslim mayor, according to unofficial results from the Wayne County clerk's office.

Ghalib captured 68% of the vote with 100% of precincts reporting. Majewski, who was running for a fifth term to lead the growing city of 28,000 residents, captured 31% of the vote. 

A win for Ghalib represents a seismic shift in a city that did not have an Asian or Muslim council member until the 2000s, becoming majority-minority in makeup in the last decade. The city now boasts a foreign-born population of more than 41%. As many as 69% of residents speak a language other than English at home, the census reports. 

Among the issues in the race were worries involving high lead levels in water, pandemic recovery plans and controversies surrounding city officials. Two City Council members, Ian Perrotta and Andrea Karpinski, have resigned in the last year. Recently, the city attorney was placed on leave after a disabled activist accused him in a federal lawsuit of harassing emails. Some residents have complained about administrative infighting,

Amer Ghalib, candidate for Hamtramck mayor

Ghalib will oversee a locale surrounded by Detroit, with more than 28,433 residents, according to the 2020 Census. That’s roughly 6,000 more than a decade earlier but far from its peak, around 56,200 in 1930, city documents show.

Ghalib could not immediately be reached late Tuesday.

Majewski had said her 16 years of steering Hamtramck were needed to help navigate efforts such as replacing lead service lines, boosting economic development and working with the council set to welcome three new members in the election.

Majewski, 66, who spent two years as council president before she was elected in 2005, noted her role extends to relationships and representing the city. Both emerged when officials announced this month that annual testing showed Hamtramck tap water exceeded state lead limits — 17 parts per billion, above the action level of 15 ppb.

Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski poses at her vintage-clothing business, Tekla Vintage, on Jose Campau in downtown Hamtramck on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. She is seeking her fifth term.

Majewski had hoped to explore ways to boost funding in the aging city with a 46.5% poverty rate. She also noted partnerships on various projects, including the work underway on the 27.5-mile Joe Louis Greenway slated to link neighborhoods in the city as well as Detroit, Dearborn and Highland Park.

Ghalib, a health care professional and Yemeni immigrant, is a political newcomer. He earned the endorsement of Yemeni political groups and his former rivals in the August primary while collecting more than $25,000 in contributions, county records show.

The 41-year-old said he wanted to bring fresh ideas to address the city’s challenges, including infrastructure upgrades and lead water service lines.

Ghalib said he ran in part due to residents’ dissatisfaction with city leadership. He wants change to heal division within the community. Ghalib arrived from Yemen more than 20 years ago. The father of three earned degrees in biological science as well as health/nursing science and now works at a medical center.

The race drew 4,736 voters, according to unofficial results.

Hamtramck resident Hemyar Al-Jamali,  who is too young to vote, said he is still concerned about issues affecting his city such as flooding, lead in water pipes and road conditions.

Al-Jamali said "these are concerns my family members talk about as well."

For Amanda Jaczkowski, who ran for a seat on the Hamtramck city council, any candidate seeking a role in city government must "get back to basics" on the needs of the community.

"I'm an activist and I am very familiar with the needs of the community," she said outside a voting precinct on Holbrook.

Romulus

Current city official Robert McCraight defeated former Mayor Alan Lambert in a race to replace Mayor LeRoy Burcroff, who is not seeking re-election.

McCraight won 59% of the unofficial vote, according to results posted early Wednesday by the Wayne County Clerk's Office. McCraight has served in the city's government for 21 years, and he is currently the city's economic development director and head of the city's Public Works Department. Lambert is a retired Romulus police officer who served as mayor from 2001-13. He took 41% of the vote.

Current city official Robert McCraight defeated former mayor Alan Lambert on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 in a race to replace Mayor LeRoy Burcroff, who is not seeking re-election.

Burcroff is under federal investigation amid questions about how he spent campaign funds. 

McCraight could not immediately be reached late Tuesday.

Attracting retail development in the city of more than 20,000 residents that doesn't have a traditional grocery store and stemming violent crime were central issues in the race.

McCraight will take over a city that's seen two decades of controversy and increased violence.

Violent crime in Romulus rose 9.8% in 2020 over the previous year, while property crime dropped 16.9%, according to FBI data released last month. The Romulus statistics last year mirrored violent crime spikes and property crime decreases statewide and across the country.

Lambert had proposed putting high-ranking police officials on patrol to help address crime. McCraight said the police department's recent accreditation represents a step forward but warned the effects could be temporary because he said police are overworked and feeling unappreciated.

Romulus mayoral candidate Alan Lambert on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.

The police department was rocked by scandal when former police chief Michael St. Andre was sentenced to five to 20 years in prison in 2014. St. Andre, whom Lambert appointed, pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $100,000 in drug forfeiture funds and running a criminal enterprise. Others, including St. Andre's wife, Sandra Vlaz-St. Andre, and five Romulus police officers also were convicted in the scheme.

An outgrowth of the St. Andre investigation was a state probe into Lambert that included Michigan State Police detectives raiding his house in 2013 while he was still mayor. He did not seek re-election.

No charges were filed against Lambert. In May, a city employee came forward with new information that she said was overlooked during the initial probe that lasted from 2010-15, but state police and prosecutors said the statute of limitations had expired on any possible new charges. Lambert said the accusations of wrongdoing were cooked up by disgruntled employees and said the lack of charges prove his innocence.

Romulus resident and voter Don Hancock cast his vote Tuesday at Romulus Middle School on Wick Road and kept his fingers crossed that it would lead to the desired change in his newly adopted city.

"The roads are really bad. I would put more money into fixing the roads," said Hancock, who added he moved to Romulus recently from Detroit a year ago. "We don't have a major shopping center."

Hancock, who did not reveal who he voted for, said he watches politics very closely and will be keeping a careful watch on what elected officials do in the Wayne County city.

Dearborn Heights

Bill Bazzi, appointed mayor of Dearborn Heights in January after then-Mayor Daniel Paletko's death in January of COVID-related symptoms, defeated City Council Chairwoman Denise Malinowski Maxwell by winning more than 70% of the vote for a partial term that ends on Dec. 31 and a new four-year term that begins Jan. 1. The job pays $90,000 a year.

Paletko was a four-term mayor who served the city for 15 years.

Bazzi becomes the city's first elected Muslim mayor.

Bazzi could not immediately be reached late Tuesday.

Both candidates agreed that persistent flooding over the past few decades is among the most urgent issue affecting Dearborn Heights residents.

Bazzi said he is working with the city engineer on a "comprehensive" flood mitigation plan which involves creating a detention basin on parts of the Warren Valley golf course property.

Malinowski Maxwell had proposed working on flooding problems involving Ecorse Creek with a mitigation plan that includes buying homes near the creek and demolishing them in order to create a flood plain.

Bazzi, a council member until the council narrowly voted to appoint him mayor in late January, said he has been working with his team on the enforcement of ordinance codes to eradicate the longstanding blight issue and to revamp the city's parks. 

Bazzi took 64% of the vote in the August primary.

A Marine Corps retiree, he works for Ford Motor Co. and has lived in Dearborn Heights since 1997. The Fordson High School graduate has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering (aeronautics) from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com