Hamtramck makes history with Muslim mayor and City Council

By: - November 5, 2021 9:23 am

Hamtramck City Hall | Ken Coleman

Updated, 11:21 a.m., 11/5/21

In an historic fashion, Hamtramck voters elected their first non-Polish mayor this week.

Yemeni immigrant Amer Ghalib, 41, will lead the city. The registered nurse who is Muslim and working toward becoming a medical doctor, defeated Karen Majewski, 66, a 16-year incumbent.

Ghalib secured 68% of the vote and said on Tuesday that his win was “a real example that the American Dream is alive.”

Amer Ghalib | Facebook

“Our victory tonight is a testament to the possibility that an immigrant like myself, who came here, worked in a factory job at the age of 18, now has the honor and opportunity to serve the community that raised him as your next mayor,” he said. “I recognize the historic nature of this moment, and know the weight that it will bear. I also know that the gravity of the work ahead will be long and will be tough. But I am committed to uniting and building a better Hamtramck for all people together.”

In addition, Khalil Refai, Amanda Jaczkowski and Adam Albarmaki, who are all Muslim were elected to the City Council. The legislative body now consists of three Yemeni Americans, two Bangladeshi Americans and a Polish-American Muslim. They are all Muslim — making it likely the only such City Council in the nation.

Hamtramck, a city bordering Detroit and Highland Park, has about 28,000 residents. Through much of its 100-year history, Hamtramck has been predominantly made up of Polish immigrants and their children. Today, the city’s population is believed to be more than 50% Muslim. 

The Hamtramck election was one of three in metro Detroit that yielded history-making results for the region’s growing Arab- and Muslim-American community. 

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) became Dearborn’s first Muslim and Arab American mayor after defeating Gary Woronchak, a former state House member. In Dearborn Heights, Mayor Bill Bazzi became the first elected Muslim and Arab American mayor in city history. He defeated Council Chair Denise Malinowski Maxwell for the seat.

“[It] was an exciting day as Hamtramck residents voted for its first Yemeni-American mayor and all-Muslim City Council,” said Rebeka Islam, Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote – Michigan executive director. Islam helped make calls, send text messages and canvass the city to increase voter turnout. 

“I think the needs of this community have changed, and this election has underscored that in a profound way,” she added. “The current mayor and City Council has done important work on behalf of this community, but I think this community has evolved and it’s important that our elected officials truly reflect, represent and evolve with this community. I’m excited for Hamtramck and what lies ahead.”

Correction: The story has been updated to correct the role of Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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