Posted on November 5, 2021

Muslim Mayors Sweep Local Elections in Detroit Suburbs

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, PBS, November 3, 2021

Voters in three Detroit suburbs chose, for the first time, mayors who are both Muslim and Arab American in historic local elections on Tuesday, marking a shift in political power to a region that has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the U.S.

Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramck, all located in southeastern Michigan, have seen decades of economic growth and cultural advancement driven by Arab American immigration and investment, but have struggled with representation. How Arabs are represented — both in Census data by not having a distinct ‘Arab’ category, or the lack of representation in elected office — has long been a concern in the community. {snip}

“Because [of] the lack of Census data on the Arab American community, there are debates about its size, but after the election of three Arab American mayors in the region yesterday, there is no debate about its growth and impact.” Matthew Jaber Stiffler, a research and content manager at Dearborn’s Arab American National Museum, told the PBS NewsHour after the election.

In Tuesday’s election, Michigan State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud defeated former State Rep. and former Wayne County Commissioner Gary Woronchak to become mayor of Dearborn, which carries the country’s largest concentration of Arab Americans, by 54.6 percent to 45.2 percent, according to unofficial election results supplied by the Wayne County Clerk.


In a closely watched race in Hamtramck, a longtime destination for Eastern European immigrants and a Polish American stronghold for a century, Amer Ghalib won 68.2 percent of the vote to become the suburb’s mayor, upsetting incumbent Karen Majewski who brought in 31.4 percent. It was the first time Hamtramck voters elected someone who was not Catholic and Polish American in its hundred year history. Ghalib, an immigrant from Yemen, will become the city’s first Muslim mayor.

And in Dearborn Heights, mayor Bill Bazzi – who was appointed to the office in January 2021 after the previous mayor, Dan Paletko, died in December 2020 – legitimized his position through an election win. {snip}


The oldest, largest, and most diverse Muslim American and Arab American communities in the U.S. are located in the metro Detroit area. Christian Syrian and Lebanese immigrants first arrived in the area in the 1880s, followed later by Palestinian, Iraqi, Chaldean, Yemeni, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi Americans, and more, drawn to the area by work opportunities at Ford Motor Company in the 1920s.

Changes in U.S. immigration laws in 1965, as well as a long string of political conflicts abroad, also contributed to the growth and diversity of the region. But until now, the cities of Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, and Hamtramck, have never had Muslim or Arab American representation at the mayoral level.

Although Arab Americans have been a part of Dearborn’s population for more than a hundred years, Dearborn’s leadership has not always been welcoming. In Mayor Mike Guido’s first campaign in 1985, he asked voters to help him solve what he characterized as the city’s ‘Arab problem.’

“For Dearborn, given the segregationist and anti-Arab history of the city’s leadership, it is particularly significant to have an Arab American mayor there,” Stiffler said.