New year, new Hamtramck: City swears in first Muslim mayor, all-Muslim council

Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

Hamtramck made history Sunday afternoon when Amer Ghalib became the city's first Muslim mayor, sworn in alongside three new council members who are all also Muslim.

Some believe the city of 28,000 is the first city in the nation to have a council and mayor that are all Muslim. 

"Hamtramck continues to be an example of the American dream, big and small," former Mayor Karen Majewski said during the swearing-in ceremony for the new city leaders.

Mayor Amer Ghalib of Hamtramck, gives his first address during the ceremonial swearing-in of newly elected officials in Hamtrmck.

Ghalib was sworn in alongside three newly elected members of the City Council, Adam Albarmaki, Amanda Jaczkowski and Khalil Refai, who are Muslim themselves.

The all-Muslim mayor and council reflect how the city has changed from the largely Polish enclave it was in the 20th century to a city that now is home to many Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrants.

"What could be more American than having our residents, our immigrant families, venture into local politics," Kathleen Angerer, Hamtramck's city manager, said during the ceremony Sunday. "Today, we are witness to the reality of the American dream. We are witness to the opportunity of living in a country where anyone can achieve their dreams."

Judge Alexis Krot, center, 31st District Court, swears-in new council member Amanda Jaczkowski, 29, at Hamtramck High School Community Center.

Ghalib, a Yemeni immigrant, beat out Majewski in November during her fourth reelection bid. He worked hard to connect with the city's immigrant community, helping bolster him to a win.

The city's new leaders were sworn in Sunday in a ceremony at the Hamtramck High School Community Center, attended by more than a hundred people of different faiths and backgrounds. 

Judge Alexis Krot, center, 31st District Court, with Hamtramck's city government officials, Council Member Amanda Jaczkowski, left, Council member Mohammed Al-Somuri, Mayor Amer Ghalib, Council member Khalil Refai, (red tie), Council member Mohammed Kamrul Hassan and Council member Adam Albarmaki.

The ceremony itself was a celebration of Hamtramck's diverse backgrounds. It began with a performance by Anamika Roy, a recording artist from Bangladesh, while Majewski introduced the city's new leaders in a variety of languages.

The national anthem was sung by 14-year-old Maria Saad, a Yemeni-American student from Dearborn who won the lead role in an upcoming musical production of "Moana" at the Dearborn Youth Theater.

Newly elected council member Khalil Refai gives his remarks during the ceremonial swearing-in of newly elected officials at Hamtramck High School Community Center.

In his introductory remarks, the city's new mayor did not focus on the history made but instead on what he expects to come in the future.

"It's time to focus on the problems at hand," Ghalib said. "I hope you all maintain the energy displayed during the election season. Never be afraid to call our your leaders if they aren't serving your best interests."

During his first mayoral address, he later continued by wishing those in attendance a "happy new year and happy new Hamtramck."

He went on to relay a story about meeting with an adviser when he was a senior at Hamtramck High School who asked him what he wanted to study in college. He told her political science, but she told him that with an accent and an immigrant background, he didn't have a future in politics.

Ghalib instead decided to pursue a career in medicine and went on to work in health care. Eventually, though, he decided he had to return to his love of politics.

He promised that as the city's leader, he would practice one of the main tenets of medicine: He would never intentionally do any harm to the city.

People may not always see eye to eye, he said, but he is a "big believer in constructive dialogue where we can always meet halfway and understand each other."

He promised he would work to improve safety by training first responders and working with higher levels of government to address crime. He also said he was prioritizing repairing the sewer system and balancing the city's budget.

"If we would like to see change happen, we must make an impact," he said. "I promise you action."

After the ceremony, Council Member Mohammed Hassan told The News that he was confident in the new leaders' ability to learn and adapt to city government. There would be a need for learning, but he said he was looking forward to working with them.

Asked about the significance of Hamtramck's mayor and council all being Muslim, Hassan said the city's leaders would simply focus on continuing to do "what is good for Hamtramck."

"Inside city hall, we are all citizens of the United States of America," he said. "There is no religion inside city hall. Religion should be at the church, the mosque, the temple. After that, we're all Hamtramck residents. We're one community, we're brother and sister, and nothing will be changed."