CHICAGO: Dearborn mayor Abdullah Hammoud won’t compare himself to US President John F. Kennedy who battled bigotry in the 1960s to gain acceptance of his Catholic religion. Hammoud said that the key to success for any leader was to ensure that government fairly reflected the diversity of its community.
Since his election as Dearborn’s first Arab and Muslim mayor, Hammoud has achieved public acceptance of Muslims by ensuring that everyone is treated equally and that their needs and interests are addressed equally and fairly.
Hammoud convinced the city’s powerful unions through negotiations to grant all city employees paid days off for the two Muslim Ramadan holidays, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, similar to the paid religious holidays granted to Christians and Jews.
“We found out that was a first when we did it. When we were negotiating with our union sisters and brothers in the collective bargaining agreements, we offered Eid Al-Fitr, the Eid after Ramadan, as well as Eid Al-Adha, the Eid that commemorates the returning of the pilgrimage, the conclusion of the pilgrimage both as paid holidays. I think it is important because when you have a diverse workforce you want to ensure you are addressing the needs of this diverse workforce,” Hammoud said during an interview on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.
“The city has always given Easter, Christmas Eve, Christmas, other holidays that are entrenched in other faith traditions, every single year. Now that you have a growing Muslim workforce, many of the majority of the residents who happen to come to City Hall are going to be coming that day because they are busy doing the Eid functions. We thought it wise to offer those two days, and the news broke we were the first to do it, but that really wasn’t the intention. I remember entering that table with the unions and it was just like, I’m not coming in on Eid; you want to come in on Eid? And the collective answer was many of our union members are also not coming in because it is a relative, faith holiday for a big chunk of our city.”
Hammoud added, “That’s literally all it took, was just recognizing the diverse workforce that we had and that growing concentration of Muslim Americans within the city administration but also in the city itself.”
Not only is Hammoud the city’s first Arab and Muslim mayor, he is also the youngest person to serve as mayor in Dearborn, a city that is the seventh largest and fastest growing in the state of Michigan. Dearborn, Hammoud said, has always had an immigrant population, which continues to grow and prosper.
“We have proliferated as a community because of the immigration refugees who have settled here or resettled here in the city of Dearborn. Obviously, with the Afghani refugees that have come in, they have been stationed at the border between Dearborn and Detroit,” Hammoud said.
“But what we found was many of the Afghani refugees would love to be permanently resettled in the City of Dearborn because of our welcoming nature and the fact that we were once home to Italian immigrants, the Polish immigrants, Lebanese, Yemeni, Iraqi, now Afghani. And so we are really known in that respect. If you look at our small businesses that are proliferating, it is largely immigrant-owned businesses that are proliferating. It has only added to the vibrancy of the city of Dearborn, so we welcome it.”
Asked if he saw similarities with the challenges that John F. Kennedy faced when he became the nation’s first Catholic president in the 1960s, at a time when Catholics were subject to bigotry and discrimination, Hammoud called it a natural process.
“I think once you achieve that milestone, it kind of is great and we just keep moving on. We never ran to be the first, we ran to be the best. I wouldn’t compare myself to JFK. But what I would say is I think there is understanding, at least in the city of Dearborn and in many pockets across the country, that what matters is not the direction that an individual prays. What matters is the direction which an individual leads,” Hammoud said.
“And hopefully that is what leads to stronger, growing communities. It hasn’t been an issue. It has been welcomed and embraced. But we always have to keep our ear to the ground. The important part of government is making sure that you build pathways of trust with your residents because that trust is what allows you to maneuver, to advance, to advocate for. So that is what we are trying to do.”
Hammoud said that discrimination was not a major issue in Dearborn, although it did exist in pockets throughout the city, the state and the country, and must be addressed.
“Dearborn is obviously a multi-ethnic community. I wouldn’t say being Arab or Muslim is not easier because the mayor is (Arab and Muslim), but Dearborn has always been that welcoming place. There are certainly challenges that arise out of being Arab or Muslim. That always happens,” Hammoud said.
“Oftentimes what happens is people might think you are pushing one sub-sector of the community more than the other without validation or justification, and just because of perception. What I try to do is make sure I have a very diverse administration to look like the community we are serving. And that the agenda that we are rolling out impacts all the residents in all four corners of our city. That is really what we are trying to do.”
“In the immediate post-9/11 era in which I grew up in, you obviously saw that bigotry at an all-time high. I would tell you that in the city of Dearborn we really don’t see much of that within our boundaries. Certainly, there are still elements where that does happen. And oftentimes, maybe not just toward the Arab-American and Muslim community, to other communities as well, that we try to address and tackle collectively.”
Hammoud said that his priority, and the public’s real priority, was to see the services that the public needs delivered, and he continues to work in that direction.
Those priorities during his first 14 months in office include securing $30 million in federal funding to address the effect of the devastating floods that hit Dearborn in 2021, addressing the pressures of rising property taxes, providing parks for families and children, expanding mental health care services, and working on a health care needs assessment for the city’s residents.
“We have been able to accomplish all that we set out to accomplish but there is a whole host of issues that takes some time to tackle,” he said.
No novice to politics or public service, Hammoud previously served three terms in the Michigan State General Assembly from January 2017 through his mayoral election. He was only 26 years old when he ran for the state house.
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