Meet the man hoping to become the first Arab-American mayor of Dearborn

Abdullah Hammoud, 31, squares off against Gary Woronchak on November 2

Though it is affectionately known as the capital of Arab America, Dearborn, Michigan, has never had an Arab-American mayor.

Abdullah Hammoud hopes to change that.

The 31-year-old Democratic state legislator has already broken barriers. In 2016, at 26, he became the first Muslim American to represent the 15th district at the state capital.

Now, after five years of representing Dearborn in Lansing, he wants to lead the city he was born and raised in.

“We're running on this idea that if we all roll up our sleeves, throw our work boots on and build a trustworthy and competent team, there's absolutely nothing that Dearborn can't accomplish,” Mr Hammoud told The National.

In August, Mr Hammoud handily won the mayoral primary with close to 9,000 votes, more than double what his closest competitor, Gary Woronchak, garnered.

As the top two finishers in the primary, the two will face off in the November 2 election.

Mr Hammoud has received several high-profile endorsements, including one from congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who represents the Dearborn area in Washington.

Dearborn is a sprawling suburb on the outskirts of Detroit, home to the Ford Motor Company and some of the best Lebanese restaurants outside of the Levant.

It is difficult to know how many of the city's roughly 110,000 people are of Arab descent, because “Arab” is not an option on the US census. Conservative estimates hover at about 40,000, making Dearborn the city with the highest concentration of Arabs and people of Arab descent in the US.

Arabs have been immigrating to Dearborn for more than a century. At first, most came from the Levant — skilled labourers who helped build Henry Ford’s fleet of Model Ts. Many Lebanese and Syrian Americans still work for Ford today.

In more recent decades, Iraqis and Yemenis have started coming to the city as well.

Mr Hammoud is the second of five children. His father immigrated from Lebanon by way of Saudi Arabia in the 1980s. His mother, who comes from Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon, immigrated to Dearborn in 1974 before the start of the Lebanese civil war.

His parents worked long hours to provide for him and his siblings. His father worked at a gas station and drove lorries to make ends meet and now works for a local grocery store chain, while his mother, who went back to school later in life, runs a small business.

The mayoral candidate said he had a typical immigrant childhood, moving more than a dozen times before he was a teenager, but he never wanted for anything.

“[My childhood] was rich in family and relationships,” he said.

He initially wanted to be a doctor, something he jokes his mother still hopes he will become, and eventually earned a master's degree in public health and epidemiology from the University for Michigan. But after being repeatedly wait-listed for medical school, he turned to another passion: politics.

At his swearing-in ceremony for state representative, his mother hugged him and told him how proud she was.

“‘I want you to know, I'm very proud of you. But I would have been more proud if you were a doctor,’” Mr Hammouds recalls his mother saying.

While he himself may not be a doctor, his wife, Fatima Beydoun, is a family physician in Dearborn.

The city is home to a growing number of politically orientated Arab-American youths who are hungry to see people that look like them in positions of power.

“It's not lost on me that coming from minority backgrounds, there are a number of barriers to entry into politics and most fields of public service,” said Alabas Farhat, a 21-year-old political organiser in Dearborn.

Mr Farhat said seeing someone from his community as a mayoral candidate is uplifting and gives him hope for the future.

“It really does inspire,” he told The National.

For Mr Hammoud, it’s not about becoming the first Arab-American mayor, but ensuring that if he is elected on November 2, he is not the last.

“I don't think it's in firsts that is the major success,” said Mr Hammoud.

“I think it's in people with a name like me, with a different faith, who might sound and look a little bit different, who do such a great job, that you're not the last, that it becomes the norm.”

Updated: October 28th 2021, 11:00 AM
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