DEARBORN — About a year and five months after taking over the city’s leadership, Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud delivered his first annual state of the city address last Tuesday evening on the Michael A. Guido stage in the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, pledging to residents to provide world-class parks, 24-hour services and to continue solving the flood problem, in addition to the return of social events that attract visitors and families from all over the region.
Dearborn City Council President Mike Sareini introduced the mayor. Last year, he said, the city faced a $22 million deficit from the previous administration and had to make cuts to retiree health care benefits. In September, the City Council approved the first balanced budget in 20 years at $128 million.
“In the past, they said you cannot cut taxes without cutting services, but I can say we did just that,” Sareini said. “A new city department has captured more than $30 million in development… much of which has been allocated to parks, including a major development for Camp Dearborn.”
Hammoud’s speech, entitled “Always Bet on Dearborn”, argued that people from around the world have chosen Dearborn to lay down roots, start businesses and pursue lifelong opportunities because “it’s the safest bet anyone can make”, a refrain echoed several times throughout the speech.
Hammoud presented an optimistic picture of Michigan’s seventh largest city, unveiling a new vision statement and five strategic priorities to guide his administration in the coming years.
“Dearborn is where new beginnings meet lifelong opportunities, where city government draws on the passion and creativity of residents to foster healthy neighborhoods, thriving businesses and excellent public service,” Hammoud stressed in his speech.
He outlined a number of accomplishments by the new administration, including a partnership with Google Cloud to make the city a 24/7, multilingual service provider; a program that provides free books to Dearborn children and local interventions to address the opioid crisis and hold accountable polluters in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.
Hammoud unveiled for the first time renderings for three new parks that will be constructed, part of a $30 million investment known as the PEACE Parks Project (PEACE stands for Parks Equity and Access for City Engagement.)
Hammoud said the new parks embody the vision of a green and healthy Dearborn.
“There is no problem we face that can’t be helped with more green spaces throughout our city,” he said. “From flooding to sustainability to public health to economic development, parks are the connective tissue of our public square. They green and beautify our neighborhoods, they improve our mental and physical health… And we have a responsibility to heal the scars of heavy industry so that Dearborn can remain a healthy, beautiful city for generations to come.
“These aren’t just any parks,” he added. “These parks embody the future for our city. A city that is green and innovative, communal and connected. And thanks to our partners at Imagine Design, we are bringing three unique experiences to our city.”
The three parks, in the west, the east and in the Southend, will be completed over the next two years. The project plans to add free outdoor Wi-Fi; playscapes; basketball courts; soccer fields; upgrades to pavilions, pools and splash pads; rental facilities and rain gardens.
Throughout his speech, Hammoud stressed the importance of investing in people, declaring Dearborn as “the talent hub of the state of Michigan.” Noting Dearborn’s proportion of youth — nearly 40 percent of the city is under the age of 24 — Hammoud said companies within driving distance will want “Dearborn hustle” powering their organizations.
“If you asked me to place a bet on where a young person could start with little to nothing and in one generation build a successful business that breaks the cycle of poverty, I’m betting on Dearborn every single time,” he said.
“You can live your whole life in Dearborn… it is a city of lifelong opportunities,” Hammoud added, stating that residents can enroll in a university without having to leave the city, a reference to the quality of undergraduate studies at Henry Ford College and the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Last year, Dearborn was the first city in Michigan to establish a grant to provide free books every month for children under 5, in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which succeeded during the past seven months in securing 13,538 books. The Amity Foundation distributed them to about 2,000 children.
Hammoud also praised Dearborn’s cultural and social diversity.
“This city feels like a small town, a city that has welcomed folks from every corner of the globe with wide arms and an open heart,” he said. “Whether you’re a third-generation auto worker who grew up in the Southend and migrated west; whether you can trace your roots to Italy or Yemen, Poland or Iraq, people of all walks of life have bet on Dearborn. And as they will tell you: it’s the safest bet anyone can make.”
Hammoud announced that he had submitted a balanced budget for the first time in two decades, which he said was achieved without cutting services or deferring needed investments.
“When I entered office, the city’s future was at risk. We faced a structural deficit of over $20 million dollars at the same time that many of our public spaces and facilities had not been maintained in decades. In that situation, conventional wisdom says that you should cut services and defer investments. But we didn’t come in to recycle conventional wisdom. We came here to change it.”
Hammoud, 33, was elected mayor on November 7, 2021, shortly after the catastrophic floods that hit the city that year and drew attention to him as the first Arab and the first Muslim to lead the city, which is dubbed the “Capital of Arab Americans.” During his tenure, Dearborn was the first American city to include Eid al-Fitr in the list of public paid holidays, along with Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
Immediately after assuming the duties of the mayor, Hammoud established the Department of Community Relations, which was entrusted with collecting and directing residents’ questions and comments. He also established a comprehensive one-stop-shop call center where residents can ask questions and get the needed support by calling 313.943.2150.
Regarding the frequent floods in Dearborn, Hammoud said that his team is working around the clock to find appropriate solutions to this dilemma, noting that the city will spend $1 million to remove logjams in the Rouge River in addition to $30 million to improve the rainwater and drainage infrastructure sanitation, including the establishment of rain gardens to mitigate the effects of floods.
Hammoud said a flood mitigation strategy began the day he took office in January 2022. Dearborn is a downstream community and his administration has invested in rain gardens in various parts of the city, which are expected to decrease the likelihood of flooding.
Hammoud concluded that the state of the city is stronger than ever, because “people are built differently.”