Wrestler to rep? ‘Rhyno’ one of 8 seeking Dearborn seat

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Pro wrestler Terrance “Rhyno” Gerin is spending his summer in the political ring, where the Republican is among eight Dearborn residents running for state representative in the 15th House District.

Gerin enters this fight as an underdog and will remain one if he manages to win a three-way GOP primary in the district, which Democrats have held in a virtual chokehold for several years. But he is turning heads along the way.

“It’s not every day people get a 300-pound pro wrestler knocking on their door,” Gerin told The Detroit News on the campaign trail.

Other Republican candidates in the Aug. 2 primary are Richard Johnson, who did not respond to an interview request, and Paul Sophiea, a former medial industry consultant previously appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to the Middle Eastern American Affairs Commission.

“Dearborn is not a bastion for the far left or the far right,” said Sophiea, who suggested it’s going to take “the right Republican” to compete in the general election. “It’s pretty much concerned with pocketbook issues.”

Democrats have dominated the diverse but close-knit district since 2011. Term-limited Rep. George Darany, D-Dearborn, coasted to re-election in 2012 and 2014.

A crowded Democratic field

Health care adviser Abdullah Hammoud, Dearborn school board member Roxanne McDonald, U.S. Navy veteran and Huffington Post columnist Brian Stone, Dearborn schools community liaison Jacklin Zeidan and business owner Norman Alsahoury are competing in the Democratic primary.

Stone, 29, made headlines in 2013 when he led a successful push for Michigan universities to offer in-state tuition to military vets who served overseas, a rate he was not initially offered when he returned home and enrolled at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“I came home to a state that was squabbling over issues that didn’t matter and not really paying attention to infrastructure and education, issues that are important to our long-term health,” he said.

McDonald, the mother of a disabled veteran, said she is also focused on veteran’s issues and education, pointing to her work on the Dearborn school board. She supports increased K-12 funding, universal preschool and touts early college and skilled trades programs in her school district that could inform statewide policies.

“We’re a model for the nation,” said McDonald, 51.

Hammoud, 26, has a master’s degree in health care policy and is an adviser for the Henry Ford Health System. He is backed by state Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights.

Hammoud said he wants to boost education funding, repeal the right-to-work law, and address air pollution and high asthma rates.

“We have to work with (corporations) because we don’t want to push those jobs out.”

Zeidan, 53, said her work as a community liaison for Dearborn schools has prepared her to represent the community in Lansing.

“I ask the hard questions and I’m always digging to find out what’s right for us all,” Zeidan said, referencing her regular participating in local meetings.

Zeidan fears that charter schools are “chipping away” at public education and turning it into a for-profit industry.

Alsahoury, 26, does not have political experience, but the physical therapy clinic owner says he thinks he could make a difference in Lansing.

“I can’t tolerate all the things that are going on and can’t see the change at all,” said Alsahoury, who believes the state tax system is too hard on lower- and middle-income earners. “I want to get in office and actually make a change.”

A GOP wrestling match

Leading candidates in the 15th Distirct Republican primary are promoting pragmatism and bipartisanship.

“I’m Republican by party; independent by nature,” said Sophiea, 60, who is substitute teaching after spending 34 years in the medical industry before being laid off. He got a fundraising assist this month from Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

Sophiea said he wants to bring “Pure Michigan” money to Dearborn to market the city and proposes focused tax breaks for companies that help employees reduce student loan debt.

“I don’t think people go into Lansing with a vision,” he said. “ I’ve got a history of putting things together.”

Gerin, 40, described himself as a “common sense” Republican who is “in the middle” on a lot of issues. He opposes abortion but is focused on reducing abortion numbers through education and accessible birth control.

“People make fun of my occupation — a grown man wearing spandex in the ring for entertainment, I get that — but what they don’t realize is life is an education,” Gerin said.

The 15th District is one of two open seats in non-Detroit Wayne County that Democrats control and must retain if they hope to regain control of the state House. Democrats are expected to carry the 14th District, which includes parts of Lincoln Park, Melvindale, Riverview and Wyandotte.

Cara Clemente of Lincoln Park, wife of term-limited Rep. Paul Clemente, is running to take his place and faces Jeff Chicoine of Wyandotte, a former aide to Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

Other Democratic candidates include Daniela Peric of Lincoln Park and John Anthony Maranian, who spent two decades in prison for assault with intent to murder after tracking down and shooting a man he believed had carjacked him.

“I deeply regret it, but it is what it is,” said Maranian, 53, who now does environmental abatement work and believes his prison experience helps him understand criminal justice reforms more than other candidates.

The winner of the 14th District Democratic primary will take on Republican Darrell Stasik in the general election.