Hammoud elected as Dearborn's first Arab American, Muslim mayor

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud was elected as Dearborn's seventh mayor, becoming the city's first Arab American and Muslim to win the spot on Wednesday, defeating former Wayne County Commissioner Gary Woronchak.

Hammoud received 55% of the vote to Woronchak's 45%, according to City Clerk's unofficial results early Wednesday morning. About 47% of the Wayne County community's residents identify as Arab and 29.1% are foreign-born, according to the U.S. census.

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.

The 31-year-old state House lawmaker becomes just the seventh leader for the city of nearly 110,000 residents.

Hammoud took the stage at Mohammed Turfe Community Center near Schaefer close to 11:30 p.m. and declared victory.

"To the young girls and boys who have been ridiculed for their faith or ethnicity, to those of you who were ever made to feel that their names are unwelcome, and to our parents and to others who are humiliated for their broken English and yet still persisted — today is proof that you are as American as anyone else, and there is a new era in Dearborn,” he told an audience of hundreds.

Abdullah Hammoud hugs family member Hiyam Makki of Dearborn Heights as another family member, right, Sue Beydoun of Dearborn, smiles at the Mohammed Turfe Community Center on Tuesday.

The new mayor is slated to preside over more than 770 full-time and 1,700 part-time employees plus a budget proposed to top $135 million.

Dearborn is considered the birthplace of Ford Motor Co. and has drawn international attention as the hometown of Henry Ford, Greenfield Village and its sizeable Muslim population.

Besides improving infrastructure, the candidates have focused on economic recovery from the pandemic.

Hammoud and Woronchak have stressed their time working in government as strengths for the role.

Woronchak, a former Dearborn Press & Guide editor and state representative, chaired the Wayne County Commission from 2005-18.

His campaign said he introduced 22 bills that become law, obtained $1 million in state funding to build a health and research center the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services established and authored a resolution opposing President Donald Trump's "Muslim ban."

Woronchak, 66, had said he had more leadership experience "by far."

He earned the backing of resident and business owner Abdullatif Aljahmi.

“He’s done many things that directly assisted our community. He’s always been there for Dearborn,” he said Tuesday. “Out of the two running, he’s the best qualified with the experience and been put to the test.”

Gary Woronchak and his wife, Vivian, talk with others as they arrive at the Dearborn Symphony Orchestra ‘Roaring 20s’ opening night party at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in October.

Hammoud is finishing his third term in the state House representing the 15th District, which includes Dearborn, where he passed 11 bills and resolutions. His campaign also 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's election could be a sea change for the city and its growth, said Mahdi Shukr, a resident who volunteered with his campaign.

"It's very exciting to see the innovation that’s going to come with someone that’s 31 years old who is willing, ready and able to take on the hardest problems that we have been facing," he said. "I'm just ready to have a city that’s able to compete with cities not only in the county, but in the state and across the United States."

Both candidates had pledged to explore ways to prevent a repeat of last summer's floods, which damaged thousands of homes. Residents protested the O'Reilly administration and criticized the city for not taking more steps to strengthen Dearborn's infrastructure.

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.

Ali Berry, a lifelong resident who chairs the Dearborn Community Council, said both candidates are public servants but Hammoud's plans earned his vote.

Hammoud's proposals for tackling environmental issues and infrastructure "sounded to be very rooted in experience," Berry said. "I feel like I voted for a platform and ideas and solutions."

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters celebrated Hammoud's win.

“Abdullah Hammoud’s win tonight signals a pivotal moment in Dearborn’s history and reflects a monumental shift in the city’s role within southeast Michigan — now led by a proven leader who unflinchingly takes on the tough challenges,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director for the league. “Abdullah will unite Dearborn around upgrading its water infrastructure to stop constant flooding, holding polluters accountable for dirtying the city’s air, and beginning to invest in clean, renewable energy.” 

Abdullah Hammoud, if elected, would be the first Arab American Muslim mayor of the city.

Hammoud and Woronchak beat a crowded field in the August primary after O'Reilly opted not to seek another term amid health challenges.

The campaign spawned controversy as the race heated up.

Some critics claimed at least one of Woronchak's campaign videos implied Hammoud, who could become the city's first Arab and Muslim mayor, would focus on residents with similar backgrounds and in certain neighborhoods.

Hammoud has insisted his campaign was not solely about diversity.

"We never ran to be the first," he said to cheers Tuesday night. "We ran to be the best."