Interview with City of Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud

City of Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud with wife, Dr. Fatima Beydoun, and daughter, Maryam

City of Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud with wife, Dr. Fatima Beydoun, and daughter, Maryam

In November 2021, Abdullah H. Hammoud was the first Arab American and Muslim to be elected Mayor of Dearborn.

From 2017-2021, Hammoud represented the 15th District in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Born and raised in Dearborn, Hammoud graduated from Fordson High School, earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a Master of Public Health in epidemiology and genetics from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and a Master’s of Business Administration from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Kassem Doghman: Please share your view on what role HFC currently has in the Dearborn community?

Mayor Abdullah Hammoud: In Dearborn, we are blessed to have the type of city and economy where anyone, no matter their birthplace, background, or family income, can build a prosperous life without leaving the city. Henry Ford College plays a central role in creating those pathways of opportunity. Thinking about myself and several people on my executive team, our parents did not go to college in the United States. College can be expensive, confusing, and inaccessible to people from non-traditional backgrounds, so we’re extremely lucky to have an institution like HFC embedded within the community and our schools to make higher education truly accessible and to help catapult people toward their goals. Dearborn is an engine of economic mobility, and that engine cannot run without our local universities and their impact on the community.

KD: Please share what being the first Arab American Muslim Mayor of Dearborn means.

MAH: It means that a door was opened for me and that it’s my duty to keep it open for the next generation, and for generations to come—not just for Arabs or Muslims, but for anyone who feels they are called to public service. This field does best when it includes more of us because that means we are drawing inspiration and expertise from a wider share of the public. So I take seriously the responsibility that comes with being the first and ensuring public service is never deemed off-limits to anyone.

KD: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your early days as mayor?

MAH: The pandemic highlighted the need to invest in localized public health. Dearborn was one of the hardest-hit communities with the highest infection rate in the state at one point. We are a close-knit community with multi-generational dwellings, and many of our residents have developed a healthy skepticism of a healthcare system that isn’t always culturally competent and sensitive to their needs. Arab Americans also face the barrier of not being represented in Federal data collection, which means that measuring the full impact of the pandemic on our community is difficult. These data challenges also affect our ability to seek Federal and other funding opportunities to address health disparities that disproportionately impact parts of our city. That’s why one of my first actions as Mayor was to establish a Department of Public Health, becoming only the second city in Michigan to do so. We learned that we must lead the charge when it comes to protecting our residents’ health and collecting the data needed to tell our own story and advocate for things like clean air, safe streets, and a built environment that promotes well-being.

KD: How might your administration deal with future public health crises?

MAH: It starts with building up our own capacity as a city, and ensuring we have the personnel, data, and public engagement channels to act in a time of crisis. This includes measures like initiating a comprehensive health needs assessment, strengthening health and emergency communications, and developing strong partnerships with health bodies at the local, state, and Federal levels. We are blessed to have excellent relationships with Wayne County and MDHHS, and we will continue to work with our partners to understand and address Dearborn’s unique public health challenges.

KD: In recent years, flooding has become a concern among residents of Dearborn. How is your administration addressing concerns about flooding?

MAH: Flood mitigation is a top priority for our residents and the administration. After the last flood, I set campaigning aside and spent countless hours helping residents remove their sewage-soaked valuables out of their basements, and I understand why floods are traumatic events that have serious impacts on residents’ health and livelihoods. We started by initiating the first-ever comprehensive study of our sewer and water infrastructure. It’s extremely important to understand where the system’s vulnerabilities are because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. We need to approach the problem neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street, and block by block. What works in the Aviation District may not work in the Southend. This study will also provide a roadmap for the full greening of Dearborn, allowing us to build green infrastructure to help hold and absorb water and minimize runoff. Dearborn is also a downstream community. This means that when there is a catastrophic rain event in Wayne County, we get the runoff from our western neighbors, such as Canton, Livonia, and Westland. Our flood mitigation efforts require us to work with those upstream communities, as well as more direct neighbors like Detroit, to ensure we have a regional strategy as well as a local strategy. We look forward to announcing more flood mitigation initiatives in the coming months.

KD: Since you started your first term as mayor, what do you see as the biggest issues facing Dearborn and how does your administration plan to address them?

MAH: There are so many challenges worthy of our attention and effort, but I’ll mention two that keep me up at night. We’ve seen a truly heartbreaking number of overdose-related deaths and traffic deaths for the last several years in Dearborn. No one wants to attend another funeral of a young person who suffered from opioid use disorder, and who did not get the help they need whether due to healthcare access, stigma, or something else. My administration’s immediate focus is on preserving human life. That’s why our Department of Public Health (DPH) has distributed over 1,000 units of free Narcan, a lifesaving drug known to reverse overdoses, to the community. We studied our overdose data and strategically placed a Narcan vending in the Dearborn train station, a central location that enhances access. DPH also launched a multilingual community education strategy to teach people how to administer Narcan and to encourage friends and family of those who may have substance use disorder to carry Narcan at all times. When it comes to pedestrian and traffic safety, we allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars in my first budget to traffic calming measures that will save lives. In the months to come, we will begin implementing these measures, which include pilots of speed bumps, high-visibility pedestrian crossings, and other data-backed interventions that will improve safety on our roads. Finally, our police department has shifted its overall focus to hazardous moving violations that directly impact public health and safety, such as running stop signs, speeding, and reckless driving. At the same time, this shift helped us reduce racial disparities in traffic enforcement since it deprioritized high-visibility traffic enforcement that overemphasizes non-moving violations.

KD: What is your long-term vision for Dearborn?

MAH: I want Dearborn to be a city that fosters opportunity at every life stage and creates the conditions for all people to lead healthy and dignified lives. That’s why we’ve rolled out an initiative called “The Dearborn Advantage” that highlights all the advantages to being a Dearborn resident: everything from making our pools free to all kids, to our $30 million investment in public parks.

KD: You were elected to the Michigan House of Representatives for the 15th District and served from 2017-2021. How does your job as mayor differ from your work in the state legislature?

MAH: Legislators do extremely important work, such as securing the funding cities need to make lasting investments. But as mayor, you’re more directly responsible for solving immediate problems. In one rare case, I got to see a project through from its legislative phase all the way down to the execution at the municipal level. As a state rep, I helped secure $2.8 million to bring the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to Dearborn. This program provides a free book every month to children aged 0-5 and is intended to boost childhood literacy and later success in school and life. Last year, we were able to implement the program, and we’ve had thousands of families sign up. The funding I secured in the legislature will be enough to keep the program going long after my career is over. This work is all about making a positive impact that will outlast you, and you can do that at any level.

KD: Your predecessor, John B. O’Reilly, Jr., served as mayor of Dearborn for 14 years. What have you learned from your predecessor?

MAH: When in doubt, lean on the people of Dearborn. This is something that I think every mayor realizes in times of difficulty. Often, the solution to your biggest problems lies in the wisdom of the people you serve.

KD: Orville Hubbard served as Mayor of Dearborn from 1942 to 1978 and was a known segregationist with his infamous slogan, “Keep Dearborn Clean.” A statue in his honor stood in front of city hall for more than thirty years. The statue was not removed until 2015 and put just outside the Dearborn Historical Museum, where it remained until being removed by the Hubbard family from public display in 2020 amid objections from residents. What is your view on the public display of statues of figures like Orville Hubbard?

MAH: These aspects of Hubbard’s legacy are so contrary to what Dearborn is today, and where we want to be a generation from now. Public symbols like statues have real cultural significance, and they signal to the world who we are and what we value. As I said in a letter to residents, we cannot know where we want to go as a city without reckoning with where we’ve been. Removing the statue is a statement that racism, segregation, and anti-Black and anti-immigrant policies have no place in the future we are shaping.

KD: What advice do you have for college students wishing to become more involved in politics?

MAH: You never need permission to pursue public service. You only need support. Give yourself permission, and build support by listening and cultivating relationships grounded in mutual respect.

KD: What is a typical day for you as the mayor of the city of Dearborn?

MAH: I can’t say I’ve had a typical day. When the days start to feel typical, it’s probably time to hang it up. I’m constantly meeting new people, pursuing new projects, and working with my team to innovate and improve how we do things at City Hall.

KD: How has being a mayor affected your personal life and your time with your family, especially since you have a new addition to your family?

MAH: Having a daughter in my first year as mayor has been my greatest blessing. It’s allowed me to see the world through her eyes, and to imagine the Dearborn I hope she chooses to stay in.