'We ran to be the best,' Dearborn's first Arab American, Muslim mayor says

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Abdullah Hammoud was formally sworn in as the mayor of Dearborn on Saturday in a historic ceremony in the city with one of the highest concentrations of Arab Americans in the nation.

After taking his oath of office, Hammoud, the city's first Arab American and Muslim mayor, began his speech with a quote from the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Deaborn, who died at 92 in February 2019 after representing the state in Congress for 59 years. He was the longest-serving member of Congress in history.

Judge Helal A. Farhat swears in Mayor Abdullah H. Hammoud in Dearborn, Michigan, on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.

"He said, and I quote, 'Elected officials do not have power, they hold power, and trust from the people who elected them,'" Hammoud said. "Everything we do will begin with that basic truth — that the people of Dearborn have the ultimate power.

"Having devoted my life to public service I know that there is more wisdom in the public we serve than any elected official can dream of. For all four corners of our city bring something special. It makes Dearborn the rich and vibrant place we all love and call home." 

Hammoud and members of the Dearborn City Council and Charter Commission were inaugurated at Ford Community & Performing Arts Center, where attendees were required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test and  wear masks. 

Asked after the ceremony what being the city's first Arab American and Muslim mayor means to him and for residents, Hammoud said: "Obviously, we have progressed, and we elect individuals based on the direction they lead no matter the direction from which they came."

"We never ran to be the first, we ran to be the best," he said, echoing a theme he mentioned during his victory speech in November. "What I'm also hoping is that in the structure of our administration we're also seeking historic barrier-breaking firsts in terms of diversity."

Hammoud has been serving as mayor since Jan. 1. The former House lawmaker became just the seventh leader for the city of nearly 110,000 residents.

Hammound also named the city's first Muslim police chief

Hammoud succeeds John “Jack” O’Reilly Jr., the mayor since 2007, whose administration faced criticism over its handling of flooding in the Detroit suburb last summer.

Dearborn's longest serving mayor, Orville Hubbard, who served from 1942 through 1978, was an outspoken segregationist who openly disparaged black people, Jews, Middle Easterners and other groups in his public comments. 

Hammoud, 31, was raised in a working class family in Dearborn. His parents immigrated from Lebanon, and struggled to make ends meet before founding their own successful family business.

He attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he earned a master's degree in public health and master's in business administration.

Hammoud worked as a health care consultant before being elected state representative of Michigan's 15th District in 2016. He served three terms in the state Legislature, where he helped pass 11 bills and resolutions. 

Mayor Abdullah Hammoud give his remarks during the city inauguration ceremony in Dearborn, Michigan, on Saturday, January 15, 2022.

His campaign touted funds he helped secure as a legislator, including $10 million for Dearborn Public Schools, $6.7 million to build Henry Ford College's Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute as well as $1.25 million for a consolidated 911 dispatch center.

Hammoud has drawn praise from voters for a proposal to tackle property taxes, which residents say are higher than surrounding suburbs.

Dearborn's millage for a principal residence in 2020 ranged from 53.7 to 61.1 mills depending on the school district, compared with 48.4 to 57.9 in Dearborn Heights, 51.1 in Taylor and 44.7 to 56.8 in Westland.

Hammoud emphasized a five-part plan he said would lower property taxes, generate new city dollars and enhance operations. The proposal includes boosting new housing and commercial development, and securing $100 million to pay the city's unfunded liabilities to fully fund the city pension and other post-employment benefits obligations.

That could be affected, he said, by a supplemental millage on the ballot asking voters to allow the city to levy 2.75 mills for three years starting July 1 to fund operations such as public safety. It would cost the average homeowner $167 a year.

Hammoud supports a third-party assessment for the city sewer system and hopes to convert land parcels into retention basins to handle excess rainfall as well as evaluate adding backup valves for homes.

Dearborn is considered the birthplace of Ford Motor Co. and has drawn international attention as the hometown of Henry Ford, Greenfield Village and as the most densely-populated Arab American community in the country.

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @kbouffardDN