Amer Ghalib, a 42-year-old healthcare worker, has beaten Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski, marking the first time in 100 years that a non-Polish mayor will rule the city.
According to Wayne County’s results and confirmed by Hamtramck City Clerk, Ghalib received 68% of the vote while Majewski received 31%.
Supporters of Ghalib, an immigrant from Yemen, gathered at the Yemeni American Leadership Association in Hamtramck to applaud his victory.
[ Metro Detroit election results 2021 ]
Confetti was thrown and supporters shouted for joy as Ghalib stormed for photos. The Yemeni-American community, which has fought for political power over the years, was jubilant.
Ghalib will be the first Arab-American and the first Muslim to lead Hamtramck, which has the highest percentage of immigrants among cities in metro Detroit. About half of the city is believed to be Muslim.
According to Wayne County’s results, Khalil A. Refai, Amanda Jaczkowski and Adam Albarmaki won three seats on the board. This could mean that the entire six-member council at Hamtramck will be fully Muslim.
Born in Yemen, Ghalib immigrated to the United States at the age of 17, working 10 hours a day in a plastic car parts factory to support himself and his family in Yemen. A teacher who made him take his studies more seriously changed his life.
He said he went on to earn a biology degree from Wayne State University and then a medical degree from Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica. The father of three is not licensed to practice medicine as a doctor, but is a healthcare worker in Hamtramck working in a medical practice.
An aging city, Hamtramck has faced infrastructure challenges, but the city’s population has skyrocketed over the past decade, increasing 27% from 2010 to 2020, to 28,443.
Hamtramck has always had a mayor of Polish origin since its incorporation as a city 100 years ago.
Hamtramck was historically known as a Polish enclave, but Polish-Americans today make up less than 7% of the city.
About a quarter of the city has roots in Yemen and a quarter in Bangladesh. They have pushed for greater representation at City Hall as the city faces retirement and budget challenges in the years to come.
Cultural issues were hotly debated during the campaign, with Majewski touting his support for LGBTQ people and the pride flag flying outside City Hall this summer. Majewski cast the deciding vote to fly the flag.
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Ghalib opposed the deployment of the pride flag, saying that if such a vote were to happen again, he would consider what the Hamtramck majority thinks. LGBTQ issues have existed in Hamtramck since 2008, when voters rejected a ballot proposal to include LGBTQ people as a group protected from discrimination by the city. Religious groups rallied to reject the proposal.
Majewski and Ghalib have also clashed over the issue of marijuana, with Ghalib more opposed to opening facilities that sell it in the city.
Speaking to Free Press last month, Ghalib sought to reassure locals that he would not impose his personal beliefs on others.
“People think because of my background and my religious beliefs that I’ll be anti-LGBT or something like that, but we’re in America,” Ghalib said. “The same constitution that allowed me to practice my religion here, to pray as I wish, it gives others the same freedom to practice their beliefs and express their values as they wish.
Photojournalist Mandi Wright contributed to this report.