Election roundup: History made in Dearborn, 2 Republicans to join state Senate

Racial equity takes center stage in many local races

By: - November 3, 2021 8:43 am

Rep. Abdullah Hammoud was elected Dearborn mayor on Nov. 2, 2021 | House Democrats photo

Updated, 10:45 a.m., 11/3/21

From the first Arab American mayor being elected in Dearborn to the first-ever mayoral race in Whitehall and a councilman claiming victory in Taylor, where the current mayor is facing federal charges in a bribery scandal, Michiganders shifted the state’s local political landscape in Tuesday’s election that predictably drew far fewer voters than last year.

After more Michigan residents cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election than they had in decades — about 68% of registered voters turned out — this week’s off-year election saw typical off-year voter turnouts generally ranging between 15% and 20% in cities and towns across the state, according to unofficial results. 

Voters backed both challengers and incumbents, as well as candidates in races with no incumbents — as in Dearborn’s mayoral bid, for which there was no incumbent for the first time in 36 years. Republican candidates claimed victory in races for the two open state Senate seats in Macomb County’s 8th District and the 28th District in Kent County, both GOP-leaning areas previously represented by Republicans. The chamber will once again have a 22-16 GOP majority.

And while Tuesday’s races that may not have been as high-profile as last year’s contest between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, there were plenty of issues that pushed people to the polls and send their mail-in ballots, from racial equity and waterfront development in Muskegon, where a city commissioner ousted a 12-year mayor, to support for Dearborn’s small, often immigrant-owned businesses that have struggled in the ongoing wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s the Advance’s roundup of key races:

8th Senate District special election

State Rep. Doug Wozniak (R-Shelby Twp.) won his bid against Democrat Martin Robert Genter to represent a large portion of Macomb County in the state Senate, according to unofficial election results from the Macomb County clerk.

Rep. Doug Wozniak | House GOP photo

Wozniak received 30,555 votes, or 61.9% of the ballots cast in the district that skews Republican and twice voted for Trump. Genter landed 18,838 votes.

The Republican lawmaker, who’s also an attorney specializing in elder rights and estate planning, will now fill the seat that was vacated by former state Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) after he won the Macomb County prosecutor race in November 2020. Wozniak’s November victory comes after he defeated six Republican challengers in an August primary.

About halfway through his second two-year term in the state House of Representatives, Wozniak will now serve the approximate 13 months remaining in Lucido’s term. Next November, Wozniak can run for a four-year term.

In August, Wozniak said he was a proponent of Republican lawmakers’ legislation that aimed to impose stricter voting requirements and which critics said will result in further marginalizing communities and voters of color. At the same time, Wozniak said he backed a “full audit” of the 2020 election that Biden won. A so-called audit of Arizona’s 2020 election results did not dispute that Biden won the state’s electoral votes. Across the country, election experts have expressed alarm that unproven claims of voting improprieties in the 2020 election are dangerously undermining Americans’ confidence in elections and government.

28th Senate District special election

State Rep. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) beat three challengers in a race to represent the Republican-leaning 28th District, which covers such Grand Rapids suburbs as Byron Township, Wyoming, Walker, Grandville and Rockford.

Rep. Mark Huizenga | House GOP photo

The former Walker mayor who was elected to the state House in 2018, Huizenga landed 25,735 votes, or about 61% of the vote, Tuesday, according to unofficial results from the Kent County Clerk’s Office. He defeated Democrat Keith Courtade, who received 15,683 votes; Libertarian Alex Avery, who nabbed 611 votes, and Theodore Gerrard, a U.S. Taxpayers Party who secured 420 votes.

The 28th District seat was open because former Sen. Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford) vacated it after winning the Kent County treasurer race in November 2020. Like Wozniak, Huizenga will be able to run for a full four-year term in 2022. MacGregor’s term was set to end in January 2023. 

The owner of two small businesses, a health care consulting firm and a software company, Huizenga said his priorities include greater transparency around elected officials’ finances and addressing a housing shortage in West Michigan by supporting legislation that would provide tax credits to employers that offer housing.

Dearborn mayor

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) will become Dearborn’s first mayor of Arab descent after defeating Gary Woronchak, a Democratic former state representative and Wayne County commissioner, in the contest to lead a city that is home to one of the world’s largest Arab populations outside of the Middle East.

Hammoud, the son of Lebanese immigrants, received 13,040 votes, or 54.6% of the ballots cast in the race, according to unofficial election results from the Wayne County Clerk. Woronchak garnered 10,796 votes, or 45.2%.

“Dearborn, we won!” Hammoud wrote on Facebook. 

“I’m honored and humbled by today’s support,” he continued. “Our residents spoke loudly — we want change and bold leadership to tackle the challenges our city faces.  We live in the greatest city in America, and I’m excited about what we can achieve together.”

Hammoud, who aimed to increase election accessibility by providing information in both English and Arabic on his campaign website, said his priorities as mayor include lowering property taxes and providing support for small, family-owned businesses struggling in the wake of COVID-19.

For the first time in 36 years, there was no incumbent running in Dearborn’s mayoral race. The current mayor, John O’Reilly Jr., announced he would not run for reelection after serving in the position since 2007.

Lansing mayor

Incumbent Andy Schor easily rode to victory Tuesday, when he received 11,328 votes compared to challenger and longtime Lansing Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar’s 6,290, according to unofficial results from the Ingham County Clerk.

First elected to be Lansing’s mayor in 2017 after serving as a state representative, Schor’s reelection campaign centered around growing economic development in the city and advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“Looking ahead, you can expect to see increased public safety, further investment in our neighborhoods, economic development, and so much more,” Schor wrote on Facebook Tuesday night.

Conversations around racial equity have dominated much of Schor’s mayoral tenure; following a police officer murdering George Floyd last summer, protesters marched to the mayor’s home and advocated for policies that would improve the lives of Lansing’s Black residents. If he didn’t take action, protesters said he should resign.

Local racial justice advocates have criticized Schor over his handling of a protest last year, when officers tear gassed individuals condemning police brutality.

Several days before the election, Schor agreed to participate in the nonprofit One Love Global’s “racial healing circle” next year, which is meant to hold people accountable for past mistakes and heal a racial divide.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor| Nick Manes

Muskegon mayor 

Voters in Muskegon backed City Commissioner Ken Johnson as their next mayor in a tight race, giving him 2,272 votes to defeat 12-year incumbent Stephen Gawron, according to unofficial results from Muskegon County. Gawron secured 2,147 votes, 125 fewer than Johnson. 

Johnson, who has served on the City Commission for eight years and works as a financial planner, said he will be a champion for “progressive policies” and has often advocated for racial equity while in office. In light of Muskegon residents calling for commissioners to shift some funding for police to social programs following Floyd’s murder, Johnson pushed for discussion around “reimagining how our Department of Public Safety is configured so every resident of Muskegon feels confident that the department is serving and protecting them.”

During his campaign, Johnson said he aims to make city development, particularly the downtown development that’s rapidly occurring in Muskegon, more inclusive. Black Muskegon residents, for example, have long said they often feel unwelcome downtown, and there are few business owners of color operating there.

“There has been substantial redevelopment of downtown in the eight years I’ve been on the commission, and I am proud to be part of this progress,” Johnson wrote on his campaign website. “Yet, I recognize that many residents feel detached from what’s happening, whether shut out of opportunities or unable to afford downtown living and activities. It’s important that we build an inclusive and accessible downtown benefiting the full spectrum of our citizenry.”

Plymouth City Commission

All four candidates running for the Plymouth City Commission in the Detroit suburbs came out winners, as there were four open seats. 

Alanna Maguire

Mayor Pro-Tem Nick Moroz received 1,086 votes; Jennifer Kehoe came in second with 1,078 votes, according to unofficial results from the Wayne County Clerk. Alanna Maguire, who is married to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, landed 995 votes, and Linda Filipczak secured 837 votes.

The top three candidates — Moroz, Kehoe and Maguire — will serve four-year terms, while the fourth place candidate, Filipczak, earns a two-year term.

Moroz has served as mayor pro-tem since November 2019. He works as the assistant director of entrepreneurial practice at the Center for Entrepreneurship in the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. Moroz also owns the Detroit Bat Company, which makes wooden baseball bats. Kehoe too has a long history in local government; she has served on the Plymouth Planning Commission for seven years. 

Maguire works as a finance and business support supervisor for an international renewable engineering and environmental sustainability consulting firm. She is also the president of Fair Michigan, a nonprofit that advocates for LGTBQ+ rights and seeks to end discimination against people based on their sex, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity. Filipczak serves as a Plymouth Historic District commissioner and works at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.

Plymouth’s two-term mayor, Oliver Wolcott, did not run for a third term, which means councilmembers will vote in a new mayor at their Nov. 8 meeting.

Pontiac mayor

Pontiac residents will soon see a new face leading their city: Tim Greimel, a former Democratic state representative and Oakland County commissioner whose districts included Pontiac, won with 4,543 votes, according to unofficial results from the Oakland County Clerk. 

He defeated Alexandria T. Riley, Pontiac’s former chief development officer and the current sales director at the Genesee County Land Bank Authority. Riley received 2,763 votes.

Tim Greimel

Greimel will replace two-term Mayor Deirdre Waterman, the city’s first female mayor who lost her bid for office in August’s primary election. Waterman’s name was kept off the primary ballots after she failed to file campaign finance reports and pay late fees on time, according to local election officials; she then ran a write-in campaign. Waterman faced a challenging period in Pontiac’s history; she was elected after three state-appointed emergency managers controlled the city.

In Greimel’s bid for mayor, his campaign centered around addressing neighborhood blight, creating an African American Health Commission to tackle racial disparities in local health care, fixing roads, public safety, and growing economic opportunity in the Black-majority city where about 30% of the population lives in poverty.

“We need a mayor who collaborates with city council, residents, civic organizations, and local businesses to build the Pontiac you deserve,” Greimel wrote on his campaign website.

Sterling Heights mayor 

Following one of Michigan’s more contentious mayoral races this year, Mayor Michael Taylor once again won his bid to represent Michigan’s fourth largest city. Taylor defeated challenger Ken Nelson with 12,116 votes, according to unofficial results from the Macomb County Clerk. Nelson, a former city councilman and Vietnam War veteran, received 7,040 votes.

“Thank you, Sterling Heights!” Taylor wrote on Facebook Tuesday night.

“Tonight the residents of Sterling Heights won a clear victory, and this election proves the city wants a mayor and city council with a positive message who will keep moving this city forward,” Taylor continued.

First elected to the Sterling Heights City Council in 2009, Taylor landed victory in a conservative area despite his support for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Taylor, a lifelong Republican and a partner at a local law firm, told the Chicago Tribune last year that he voted for Biden because “he’s the candidate who can appeal to moderates and Republicans like me who don’t want to see four more years of President Trump.”

Taylor’s win comes after a race that included attack ads in the local newspaper, often contentious debates, and a video of the mayor’s wife verbally sparring with a critic of Taylor.

In his next term, Taylor told the Detroit News that he hopes to focus on the redevelopment of a city shopping center, the Lakeside Mall, and potential plans to add such cultural attractions as a museum to the area. He’s also setting his sights on making the city more pedestrian-friendly.

Taylor mayor

City Council Chair Tim Woolley will become Taylor’s next mayor after defeating state Rep. Alex Garza (D-Taylor) and a write-in campaign by the city’s current mayor, Rick Sollars, who’s facing federal charges in a bribery scandal.

“Thank you Taylor! We did it!” Woolley wrote in a social media post Tuesday night.

Woolley received 5,506 votes, or 50.72% of the ballots cast, while Garza landed 4,434 votes, or 40.8%, according to unofficial results from the Wayne County Clerk. It is unknown how many votes Sollars received, though the clerk reported there 915 votes cast for write-in candidates.

Sollars was indicted in December 2019 on federal bribery and wire fraud charges. Federal prosecutors said the mayor allegedly helped a local developer obtain properties owned by the city in exchange for free work on his home, such as new hardwood floors and appliances.

A lengthy indictment of the mayor ws unsealed about a year after FBI agents raided Taylor City Hall and searched Sollars’ home. Sollars’ federal trial is scheduled for January.

Susan J. Demas

Whitehall mayor

Steve Salter, a Whitehall City Council member, will become Whitehall’s first elected mayor in the history of the small city in Muskegon County. 

Salter narrowly defeated Debra Hillebrand in Whitehall’s first-ever mayoral election; previously, City Council members appointed the mayor. The change came following a city charter amendment approved by voters in 2019.

Salter received 335 votes; Hillebrand, the city’s current appointed mayor, landed 318 votes, according to unofficial election results from the Muskegon County Clerk.

“Thank you for giving me the honor of serving as the next mayor of Whitehall, MI,” Salter wrote on Facebook.

A member of the city council since 2015, Salter also serves on the Whitehall Planning Commission.


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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is a former assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats included economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country.