DEARBORN — A reception celebrating the growing political involvement of the Arab community in the state of Michigan took place last Monday at LaPita Banquet Center in honor of the majority floor leader in the Michigan House of Representatives and the state representatives who represent Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Hamtramck and parts of Detroit, and in the presence of several political leaders, elected officials and community leaders.
The reception — which was organized by The Arab American News Publisher Osama Siblani and the Lebanese American Heritage Club (LAHC) founder Ali Jawad — was attended by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist; House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit); State Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck), the floor leader of the Democratic majority in the House, and representatives of Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and parts of Detroit, Alabas Farhat and Erin Byrnes.
Wayne County Deputy Executive Assad Turfe, Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, Dearborn Heights Mayor Bill Bazzi, Hamtramck Mayor Amir Ghalib, Westland Mayor Michael Londeau, as well as many local and county judges, jurists, municipal officials, educators and community leaders in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramck also attended the reception.
The last midterm elections — on November 8 — resulted in the victories of Farhat (District 3), Karen Whitsett (District 4) and Byrnes (District 15) in the Dearborn and Dearborn Heights seats in the State House in Lansing. Aiyash was re-elected (in District 9) and was later chosen by his colleagues in the Democratic Party to lead the new majority in the House. Aiyash was the first Arab American and the first Muslim to hold such a leadership position.
The master of the ceremonies, LAHC CEO Wassim Mahfouz, started the evening by welcoming the “young leaders” and expressing his optimism about the future of Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramck in light of the results of the recent mid-term elections, which sent “four leaders to the Capitol in Lansing to serve their constituents in the best ways possible.” He expressed his confidence that they will not disappoint the hopes pinned on them.
Mayor Hammoud praised Rep. Aiyash’s accomplishments, which added to the record of historical achievements of Arab Americans in Michigan, after he became the first Arab and the first Muslim to lead the majority in the State House of Representatives. He said that Aiyash being of Yemeni origin will not limit his efforts to serve only Arab and Muslims in the area, but that he will work very hard to serve all Michigan residents.
Hammoud indicated that the redrawing of the districts last year delivered three state representatives to the Capitol to represent Dearborn, which he had represented for more than five years, before his resignation at the end of 2021 to assume his mayoral duties. Hammoud also expressed his confidence in Farhat, Byrnes and Whitsett and their ability to continue the progressive path of Dearborn and the state as a whole.
In turn, Turfe touched on the “remarkable successes” that the Arab community continues to achieve in the Detroit area at all political, economic and social levels, pointing out that the Arab American community has made a lot of progress during the last two decades.
“When I began public service 20 years ago, the number of Arab American officials was so small that the appointment of a magistrate to a court was considered a significant achievement,” said Turfe, the second Arab American to hold the position of deputy executive of the largest county in Michigan. “Today, the positions that Arab Americans have achieved in the Detroit area and throughout the state are too numerous to enumerate.”
Turfe urged the new Arab American generations to continue the success and build on the achievements of their predecessors, expecting more of them to occupy senior positions in all fields in the future.
In the same context, Siblani described the reception as “historic”, as it includes the first Black lieutenant governor in Michigan, the first Black speaker of the State House of Representatives, the first Arab American floor leader of the House majority and the first Arab and Muslim mayors in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramck.
“It means a lot, and it also means we still have a lot to offer our country,” Siblani said. “What we aspire to, and what we can achieve, is yet to come.”
He praised the high qualifications of Arab American youth and their increasing enthusiasm to engage in government and public service, pointing out that Farhat is the second youngest representative in the history of the Michigan House of Representatives.
Gary Torgow, chairman of the Board of Directors of Huntington Bank, said that if you look around this hall you will see an amazing moment.
“In this room you have people who are leading great charities and outreach organizations, unbelievable social services leaders, you have the leadership of the state here, the speaker of the House, the lieutenant governor, the majority floor leader of the House, you have mayors of some of the most important cities in our community, you have the superintendents of some of the best school districts in the state. Great people, great judges, great community that I always feel welcome every time I visit.”
Gilchrist said that last November’s elections not only resulted in the victory of new representatives from ethnic communities, but resulted in a “blue wave” throughout Michigan, calling on Democratic representatives to work together to “accomplish the tasks that we must accomplish.
“It is a special night to celebrate these young representatives and we are sure that this moment indicates that Michigan is thriving in an unprecedented way,” Gilchrist said. “And, therefore, we must work hard to prove who we are and that we deserve the place we are in. The year 2022 witnessed a lot of history-making in our state, whether in the Capitol in Lansing or in ethnic communities throughout Michigan.”
He referred to the first African American to preside over the State House of Representatives as well as the victory of many representatives of ethnic communities and immigrants, such as Farhat and Aiyash.
Aiyash began his speech by stressing that it is not important that an elected official be “the first of its kind” in order to be a “history maker”, but rather that he believes in his responsibilities in order to serve the entire population.
“I do not care about being the first Arab and the first Muslim to assume the leadership of the majority in the State House, but rather what really interests me and preoccupies me is the legacy that I will leave behind after leaving this position,” he said.
Aiyash explained that he is looking forward, through his new role, to achieving more prosperity, stability and safety for the voters of the Hamtramck area and for all residents of the state.
“And we must work responsibly and with integrity in order to make people’s lives better and safer,” he added. “Our Arab and Islamic communities need a lot of services in the fields of education, health and infrastructure, and I am committed to serving them on an equal basis with other communities in our state.”
Tate emphasized that the recent midterm elections have revealed three important things, namely that “diversity matters”, “geography matters” and “eligibility matters.” He stressed that the Democratic representatives are ethnically and socially diverse and that, “they are qualified to play a historic role in Lansing.”
Representatives Farhat and Byrnes promised to work on fulfilling the promises they made to the voters and to make every effort to advance the futures of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights. Farhat singled out his thanks to Siblani for encouraging him to enter the race for State House to fill Hammoud’s seat, stressing that he would do everything in his power to be up to this great and important responsibility.